Did capitalism end slavery?

Don Boudreaux thinks so

The fact is that slavery disappeared only as industrial capitalism emerged. And it disappeared first where industrial capitalism appeared first: Great Britain. This was no coincidence. Slavery was destroyed by capitalism.

To begin with, the ethical and political principles that support capitalism are inconsistent with slavery. As we Americans discovered, a belief in the universal dignity of human beings, their equality before the law, and their right to govern their own lives cannot long coexist with an institution that condemns some people to bondage merely because of their identity.

But even on purely economic grounds, capitalism rejects slavery because slaves are productive only when doing very simple tasks that can easily be monitored. It’s easy to tell if a slave is moving too slowly when picking cotton. And it’s easy to speed him up. Also, there’s very little damage he can do if he chooses to sabotage the cotton-picking operation.

Compare a cotton field with a modern factory — say, the shipyard that my father worked in as a welder until he retired. My dad spent much of his time welding alone inside of narrow pipes. If you owned the shipyard, would you trust a slave to do such welding? While not physically impossible to monitor and check his work, the cost to the shipyard owner of hiring trustworthy slave-masters to shadow each slave each moment of the day would be prohibitively costly. Much better to have contented employees who want their jobs — who are paid to work and who want to work — than to operate your expensive, complicated, easily sabotaged factory with slaves.

Finally, the enormous investment unleashed by capitalism dramatically increases the demand for workers. (All those factories and supermarkets must be manned.) Even if each individual factory owner wants to enslave his workers, he doesn’t want workers elsewhere to be enslaved, for that makes it more difficult for him to expand his operations. As a group, then, capitalists have little use for slavery.

History supports this truth: Capitalism exterminated slavery.

It is entirely possible that capitalism as we know it was only made possible by slavery on the American continent, implemented on a scale rarely, if ever, seen before. One of the areas in which it was used, extensively, was in the labour-intensive production of cotton. This cotton in turn provided the inputs to meet the insatiable demand for raw material from the textile industry of early-industrial Lancashire. Without the cotton, the textile industry could not have existed and it’s workers and capitalists would have had to remain on the land.

However, once advanced market systems had been established and large numbers of people escaped from a Malthusian subsistence farming existence, could it be that capitalism and commerce is a force for increasing human freedom?

Certainly industrialisation and the increase in productivity via through the use of machinery and fossil fuels would have rendered this inhumane practice much less economically valuable. For some people the very idea of capitalism helping to end oppression may seem counter-intuitive and perhaps even distasteful. But is it possible, that the ever-rising tide of prosperity, powered by compounding annual (recessions excepted) economic growth from ever-more sophisticated trade, creates ever more scope for progressive causes to achieve success? Do periods of market-led growth lay the foundations for further human-emancipation, perhaps by freeing the hands of campaigners for just causes?

And what are the most pressing causes of our time? Are they the issues that affect us only in the West? Or should we broaden our horizons to include those afflicting several billion of the world’s population still languishing in poverty?

William Gibson once said that “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet”. The last 20 years have seen an unprecedented explosion in innovation in telecommunications and internet technologies connecting people around the globe as never before – distributing the sum total of the world’s knowledge to anyone with a mobile phone or computer and broadband connection. It wasn’t that long ago that economists thought developing economies couldn’t sustain industrial economies. The introduction of 3 billion new citizens into the capitalist system since 1990, and the surge in growth rates across South East Asia and Latin America have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of subsistence poverty. Although often experienced as a threat by us in the West, it must surely feel incredibly liberating for them.

, , ,

  • Slavery is uneconomic, that is the main reason, as the world became industrialised, it abolished a system that not only kept people in chains, it kept them housed, clothed and fed, permanently. Its important to remember that black people were not the first or even the last slaves, because slavery, as most people know, is still with us.

  • Mack

    I have to go off and have a bit of wage slavery inflicted on me 😉 but on skimming you comments, i wonder if you have ever studied Marx, as on the progressive nature of capitalism you two might have more in common than you think.

    If capitalism distributed its bounty evenly, I doubt few people would oppose it at this stage of its development, but it is in the nature of the beast not to do this, mainly due to the despicable behaviour of the capitalists who more often than not, act as if they are brain dead, never read a history book and who cannot wait to be strung up.

    The old brute Lenin made a good point when he said the capitalists will sell ‘the workers’ the rope which hangs them.

    Will return to this debate later, if I do not fall into a machine at ta mill.

    By the wage the mill workers of Lancashire, unlike the owners were strong supporters of the US anti slavery movement and the North in the US civil war, although I think you will agree the CW was about far more than slavery.

  • Rory Carr

    The rapid economic domination of capitalism was certainly responsible for the ending of slavery most obviously in the United States. It replaced it with wage slavery.

    Capital pays the worker only that which is socially necessary for the reproduction of his labour power upon the following day.

    I was able to observe this system at its crudest on building sites in England and Wales during the 70’s when foremen and gangers would only employ those men who would take a ‘sub’ each day on their wages which they then would be socially prssurised into spending in the pub along with the foreman and others of the gang so that he was under economic pressure to return to work the next day in order to have any money whatsoever to come on payday.

    In its more subtle form it is the never ending pressure of the cost of rent, mortgage, transport, family expenditure, and social activity that ensures the availability of the workers’ labour power to capital at the rate that capital determines. This of course creates the great illusion of freedom – we all after all are free to live in a palatial villa with a staff of servants, to own an ocean-going yacht and a fleet of superior automobiles which, given that so many desire to do just that, it seems strange perhaps that so very, very few do. Such ‘freedom’ is of course an illusion.

    The bondage of slavery has, under capitalism, been replaced by economic conditions which create illusions of freedom. Of which Marx considered that:

    ” Everywhere man is free and everywhere his mind is in chains…The demand to give up the illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which demands illusions.

    Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain not so that man will wear the chain without any fantasy or consolation but so that he will shake off the chain and cull the living flower.”

  • Sorry last paragraph disappeared, again..blame mobile b/b.

    I cannot see an end to the capitalist system, which with all its faults has brought great gains for most people. Sadly anyone who checks will find the emerging tiger economies are actually based on old fashioned ‘pay the minimum and no union involvement to protect the workers or improve their lot’..

  • Mack

    Pippakin –

    High growth and wage inflation return to Indian outsourcers

    Wage inflation sinks off shoring for one startup

    How rising wages are changing the game in China

    Rising China Wages Prompt Nissan Foxconn To Boost Automation

    The company I work for have offices in India, one of the lads here in Dublin was over there a few years back and went for pints after work. One of the Indians bemoaned – “It is unfair that wages are higher in Dublin, I have two houses, a driver and a gardner to keep”

    All the while employees in Dublin struggled to buy own house or run their own car..

  • Mack

    There is more to the emerging economies than I.T. I would be interested to know what benefits the driver and gardener were entitled to. Almost every item of clothing etc most of us buy comes from these emerging economies, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of sweat shops.

    Having said that I have often wondered why property prices are so high here and in the UK. It is the main thing that makes us the ‘slaves’ of employers.

  • Did capitalism end slavery?

    The definitive answer to that is, No …. it replaced it. And do yourself a favour and don’t waste any time in denying it and proving yourself a dupe.

  • Mack

    Pippakin –

    It is the main thing that makes us the ’slaves’ of employers.

    We’re not slaves to anyone in the same sense as the actually enslaved are. Beyond that we’re all enslaved by biology to cater for our basic needs (food, shelter) etc. Until the day comes that we can manage more complete automation – we’ll all have to work. Though we work less for a higher standard of living (higher live expectanct etc) than our hunter gatherer predecessors.

    There is more to the emerging economies than I.T.

    Only the first two links were related to IT in Bangalore, although there have been similar effects in terms of wage inflation in call centres etc. The later two were about China. Foxconn appears to have the reputation of a sweat shop, but even there wages are rising and they’ve been forced to improve conditions lately. Even sweathshops provide a higher standard of living than subsistence farming. Incidentally one of the problems China faces now, is that as it’s service sector is growing rapidly manufacturers find themselves competing with service providers. In many cases the pay may not be higher (sometimes even lower – although in some industries it’s much higher) but it does afford a better quality of life. Young Chinese are increasingly opting for careers in services over manufacturing. Income per capita in Shanghai is roughly equivalent to that in Lisbon apparently.

  • Greenflag

    Interesting debate and I hope to be able to contribute later but for now and for some time in the past decade my eyes see what I don’t hear and my ears hear what I don’t see .
    The appropriate name for this condition is Hungarianitis 😉
    a common condition in communist era Hungary and other Soviet states . This condition has evolved and adapted new forms in the western world since the end of history / fall of communism in 1990 . An even more virulent form has taken root in western financial sectors since 2008 when rather suddenly what we saw was what our ears were hearing and the search for the ultimate ‘scapegoat ‘ for the inherent contradictions in modern ‘financial services based capitalism ‘ began . The so called victory of the ‘free market’ in 1990 was seen to have been somewhat premature .

    Since the ‘ bail out ‘ of the bankers both in Ireland and USA and UK we see measures being taken whose primary aim is not to help those at the bottom or even in the middle but the ‘rich’ , not those who borrow but those who lend . Socialising the banking system (state intervention is okay when it serves capitalism . Socialism is bad -unamerican – except when it helps to stabilise /save capitalism . In China the USA’s most important trading partner the Chinese Communists use ‘capitalism ‘ (the authoritarian variety) to enforce their ‘socialist ‘ regime .

    George Orwell should be living at this hour 🙁
    Truth is lies , war is peace and capitalism’s future is in the hands of Chinese communists ?

    What we call the ‘left’ can shout and scream all they like but so far any realistic alternative to the current status quo either is not being heard or is suppressed or doesn’t exist or has not yet been born.

    And that about sums up the ’emptiness’ at the heart of the political and economic political debate in what’s left of our ‘western ‘ democracies .

  • Mack

    I’ve only studied Marx’s ideas second hand (like those of Adam Smith, or John Maynard Keynes) maybe one day.

    If capitalism distributed its bounty evenly, I doubt few people would oppose it at this stage of its development, but it is in the nature of the beast not to do this, mainly due to the despicable behaviour of the capitalists who more often than not, act as if they are brain dead, never read a history book and who cannot wait to be strung up.

    The system itself doesn’t support even distribution. The incentive to produce more of the right stuff derives from the uneven distribution of the rewards. For me anyway, I think it is more important that everyone reach a high minimum standard and that the bar is continually raised. Joseph Schumpeter said it well

    “The capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens but in bringing them within the reach of factory girls in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort. “

  • Mack

    Is that not a sign that the cycle is working as it always has? Surely in time they will be the same as western economies, regardless of the political leanings of whichever government. Like all successful economies they will be consumers rather than creators and the search will begin for the next ‘tiger’ nation.

    Mortgages are not the only reason most of us have to work, and they are not the only reason most of us are afraid to be unemployed, but they are, if not the main, one of the main reasons.

    I confess Im no economist but this seems to be the lesson from history, except for the mortgages. The property boom baffles me, people want their homes to be worth a fortune so their children have to borrow a fortune? How does that make sense.

  • Michael

    I think the replacement for the capitalist system will come about through technology rather than through ‘politics’.
    It’s a long way off, but who needs money when you have nanotech?

  • Mack

    Pippakin –

    Yes problem was probably the wrong word – challenge to the status quo is probably fairer. A lot of those manufacturing jobs are probably quite repetitive and could be replaced by automation eventually (once all the tigers have moved on to become consumer / service based societies).

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    The Confederate defenders of slavery argued that northern wage slaves were more worse off than the “paternalistic” ideal of southern slavery.
    certainly the founding fathers in USA did not tackle the issue because they believed it was on the way out anyway and the issue would be too divisive.
    Slavery was not deemed to be economic but actually to the consternation of abolitionists became economic again in the mid years of the 19th century.
    Indeed the invention of the cotton gin (1795ish) ….is actually credited with increasing the need for slaves.
    So….there were 4 million slaves in USA at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861….a four fold increase on 1800.
    If Capitalism can be “credited” with aboloishing slavery it also must take the blame for increasing it.

    Thats what Capitalism does.
    It does whats right for itself.
    Whatever is economic……Freedom or Slavery.

    And just for the record SLAVERY HAS NOT ENDED.

  • Mack

    I’m not sure anyone who studies economics can afford not to read Marx, if they wish to understand capitalism.

  • Greagoir O Frainclin

    Did Capitalism End Slavery?

    Na, as most folks have now become slaves to debt!

  • Jane Jaffers

    Slavery still exists.

    More slaves now than at any point in human history.

  • Nunoftheabove

    There are elements of slavery still in the world, certainly, North Korea certainly regards its citizens as worthless pieces of property, until the regime change Iraq was in similar territory. In the west though, not so. Voluntarily incurring enormous debt for non-essential goods and services and thus becoming overloaded with unmanageable levels of personal debt through your own volition – whether through stupid decision-making and perhaps motivated by naked greed – is not slavery. Slavery in the traditional sense meant being owned – as a piece of property – by another human being and/or state. Having the right to choose one’s employer, to vote, to free speech, to virtually global mobility etc – these are not the characteristics of the lives of slaves.

  • I dont know about slavery being unknown in the west. It is bought here by the poor devils ’employed’ as servants and who we only ever find out about when one of them manages to escape. Its in the illegal immigrant sex trade and its in the countries our governments deal with, from Africa right through the alphabet and beyond. Its never talked about but everyone knows its there. The west should should refuse to deal with any country known to be turning a blind eye to this appalling situation.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Aspects of slavery (restraints on normal standards of the exercise of free will etc) are not uncommon in certain communities from traditionalist islamic backgrounds in the more primitive corners of the sub-continent and middle east, for example. Religion and not economics is among its prime facilitators there, of course.

  • Interesting program on of all programs Glen Beck! He named the black founding fathers and there are several! No doubt he had his usual reasons but it was enlightening.

  • Greenflag

    ” Having the right to choose one’s employer, to vote, to free speech, to virtually global mobility etc – these are not the characteristics of the lives of slaves.”

    They are also NOT the characteristics of an increasingly larger number of people in our ‘western’ so called democratic societies .

    It’s employers who choose workers in real life and not the other way around . When there is large scale unemployment as currently exists in the USA and soon to come in the UK then ‘workers’ have less or in practice almost no choice . In societies that absent any decent social welfare net then it’s a case of how many prisons can be built quick enough to avoid major social conflict and internal class war etc etc.

    The right to vote is so prized that almost half the population in major democracies don’t even bother . I believe President Obama was elected by just over 25% of the USA electorate and Mr Cameron became British PM with his party getting 35% of the actual vote and probably less than 25% of the total valid electoral vote. No wonder Afghans and Iraqis remain unconvinced of the ‘western’ way .

    The ‘destruction’ of the power of Trades Unions apart from those in the public sector has also helped ‘reslave’ employees in the private sector . There was a time when large companies had pension schemes for employees with health benefits as in company health insurance . These have been much reduced over the past 20 years resulting in most ordinary employees now becoming ever more dependent on any State pension scheme . These State pension plans are under attack from the ‘private ‘ financial services sectors as they represent probably the last significant financial resource extant which private investment companies could ‘loot’ if they could get control of them . Former USA President Bush’s hare brained plan to ‘privatise’ American social security being just the tip of neo con maniacal greed 🙁

    As for so called ‘global mobility’ ? I can see millions of underemployed or unemployed Americans and British and Germans etc being only too happy to take up gainful employment in Utar Pradesh and or Shanghai .

    What do you call an illegal USA immigrant who works three jobs for 5 dollars an hour for 85 hours a week to make a livable wage other than a ‘slave’ ? They have no vote , they don’t speak english and their employer is often a ‘subcontractor’ and often also ‘illegal’ who exploits his fellow countrymen directly so that his /her american clients don’t have to get their hands ‘dirty’ both in the physical and legal sense .

    The economic system creates slaves and slavery almost as fast as it has helped millions to escape from slavery . It’s the political system and it’s evolution over recent centuries that has reduced or largely abolished ‘traditional ‘ slavery through legislation .

    That very same ‘political ‘system is however at least in it’s nation state traditional model virtually powerless against the forces of modern day international capital . Which is what the current G-8 and G-20 meetings in Canada are all about or more accurately should be about .

    It’s at times of mass unemployment which will be the case if world leaders cannot agree on the way out of the current bind for the world economy -that ‘reslaving’ comes into it’s own . Countries will compete against each other for foreign direct investment by lowering corporation taxes to the point whereby national governments will be unable to support even minimal social safety nets for their citizens . Beyond that point lies social chaos and the precipitous drop into barbarism which would make the ‘totalitarian barbarisms’ of the 20th century look tame by comparison 🙁

    Black swans are known to occur .

  • Greenflag

    pippakin ,

    ‘The west should should refuse to deal with any country known to be turning a blind eye to this appalling situation.’

    Somewhat naive Pippy . The west does turn a blind eye . Witness the 15 million illegals in the USA just as one example . The UK has several hundred thousand illegals I’m sure . Some elected American Congressmen and women have been found to have been actively exploiting these illegals as domestic house servants etc 🙁

  • Greenflag

    I know it, but its still there on my wish list!

    Members of the US Congress are not the only ones to get caught employing illegal immigrants. A Labour party baroness was also caught, she kept her ‘job’ – of course.

  • Mack

    Greenflag et al

    These arguments

    What do you call an illegal USA immigrant who works three jobs for 5 dollars an hour for 85 hours a week to make a livable wage other than a ’slave’ ?

    are contrived. That immigrant doesn’t have to work 3 jobs for low-wages in an expensive US city. They can go somewhere else (even home) where the cost of living is lower. A slave has no choice, trying to move like that will see them branded or maybe even killed. And even if the immirgant should struggle on for a low wage, they are still freer than any slave. Remember, though they are breaking the law just by being there. However, they Free to go where they want, when they want. Free to move house. Free to move jobs. The worst that will happen is that the immigrant will be sent home, if caught.

    And as for the unemployed being slaves? They too are freer than any slave (free not to work with our modern welfare states). And temporary unemployment does not begin to compare to a lifetime of slavery.

    I would suggest that with our pampered Western lifestyles too many struggle to even begin to comphrend how lucky we as a group are, and how miserable life was for the truly enslaved. You do them a disservice.

  • Mack

    You are right about some of the examples, but slavery is here, maybe not in Ireland, but in the west. It was not my intention to trivialize the slavery of old. Every previous empire was built on and by slaves. It was the norm.

    Slavery did not end because everyone saw the light, although some did. It ended because it was obvious to all, that if you could pay someone for only the hours worked and dump them when there was no work, that was obviously cheaper than keeping them all their lives. It was also a false accounting system! If someone owned a hundred slaves, that was part of their wealth, so if one was ill or died, the wealth diminished. Not as good as money in the bank!

    Today the ‘king’ has new clothes but when someone is afraid of his ’employer’, when a person is forced into marriage, and when a child has to work all hours for a pittance, that too is a form of slavery.

  • Nunoftheabove

    Green Flag

    “…They are also NOT the characteristics of an increasingly larger number of people in our ‘western’ so called democratic societies” – other than where certain states have conscription, please explain what you mean by this. .

    “It’s employers who choose workers in real life and not the other way around” – yes but they can’t employ those who don’t want to work for them.

    “When there is large scale unemployment as currently exists in the USA and soon to come in the UK then ‘workers’ have less or in practice almost no choice” – they always have choices; if you feel you don’t then perhaps your issue is limited perspective, weak work ethic or a lack of education and/or self-esteem.

    The right to vote is so prized that almost half the population in major democracies don’t even bother” – so it’s worthless and choosing (sic) not to vote indicates that democracy is discredited as an ideal or principle ?

    “No wonder Afghans and Iraqis remain unconvinced of the ‘western’ way” – so we should embrace brutal terrorist totalitarian regimes based on wicked stone-age texts ?

    T”he ‘destruction’ of the power of Trades Unions apart from those in the public sector has also helped ‘reslave’ employees in the private sector ” – so whose responsibnility would it be to challenge that ?

    “As for so called ‘global mobility’ ? I can see millions of underemployed or unemployed Americans and British and Germans etc being only too happy to take up gainful employment in Utar Pradesh and or Shanghai ” – perhaps not, but they do have a choice. They have options.

    “What do you call an illegal USA immigrant who works three jobs for 5 dollars an hour for 85 hours a week to make a livable wage other than a ’slave’ ?” They chose (sic) to base themselves in the US illegally and were fairly dumb if theh expected business class treatment and top dollar salaties. The USA is a competitive economy. The economic system creates slaves and slavery almost as fast as it has helped millions to escape from slavery . It’s the political system and it’s evolution over recent centuries that has reduced or largely abolished ‘traditional ‘ slavery through legislation .

    Your dismissiveness of the freedoms you enjoy is dispiriting and I would suggest very untypical of people who understand the balance they have between rights and entitlements and their obligations as citizens.

  • Cormac Mac Art

    Capitalism has (by and large) been hugely benifical to people the world over.

    All other systems (communism, facism) have proved worse than useless.

    The bourgouise have gotten a lot of sneers in the past two hundred years, but they, not the upper or lower classes, are the bedrock of society.

    I’ve never understood why aspiring to be middle-class has been such an object of snobbery. I’d prefer it to other stations I’ve experienced in life.

    Is capitilism flawed? You bet! But that’s not necessarily the problem of the system. The common fuck-up to each wonderful religion or political system is us stupid apes.

  • Harry Flashman

    Oh for the love of God, will you listen to them! A bunch of self satisfied, bourgeois, spoilt brat children wallowing in the freedom of western society, a society built on the backs of and defended by free market capitalists, and they tell you from the comfort of their warm, safe and secure homes how capitalism is just another form of slavery.

    Listen you adolescent twats, I’ve seen slavery, I’ve witnessed it first hand, I have met slaves and just so as none of you are under any misapprehension slavery is not the same as having to get out of bed on a Monday morning when you’re feeling a bit manky and going and doing eight hours work with a lunch break thrown in daily and annual paid holidays, trust me it just isn’t, ok?

    Marx was an idiot who knew nothing beyond the reading room of the British library and who wouldn’t have recognised a worker if he jumped up and bit him on the arse, his theories have been proven time, after time, after horrific bloody awful time to be nothing other than blueprints for mass starvation, murder and of course enslavement.

    Free trade, free markets, liberal democracy, do not (as the most cursory glance at their descriptions would attest) create slavery. Marxism on the other hand, as its chief practical proponents have amply demonstrated in the twentieth century, produces slavery on an industrial scale hitherto thought unimaginable.

    The banal stupidity of people who seem to believe they are so incredibly clever never ceases to amaze me.

  • Greenflag

    Mack ,

    ‘These arguments are contrived. ‘

    No they are not . They represent that actual facts of life for many ‘illegal’ and legal immigrants and US Citizens particularly among those 150 million Americans who have zero assets and the 50 million who are classified as ‘food ‘ insecure not to mention the 40 million who are still without health insurance and not forgetting the 20 million unemployed and the 8 million homes under foreclosure .

    Technically you have a point in that the reslaving of modern americans has not yet brought them to the state of say the Roman slaves of the 100 AD or the African slaves still traded to Arabs in Saudi Arabia etc or even to the more recent slavery of African Americans in the mid 19th century’

    I would suggest that with our pampered Western lifestyles too many struggle to even begin to comphrend how lucky we as a group are’

    It was’nt luck that propelled Western living standards and norms of civil socirty to where they are today . It was a century or more of economic growth as well as a century of progressive legislation brought about by social and economic and political reformers who had to fight the forces of reaction and regression and conservatism and the established churches every step of the way . NO it was certainly did people win their hard won rights and freedoms through ‘economic ‘ progress alone .

    ‘and how miserable life was for the truly enslaved.’

    For those who know their history there is more than an abundance of information out there on the subject of slavery and how tens of millions were manacled into boats and ‘exported’ as cheap labour for the cottonfields and sugar plantations .

    ‘ You do them a disservice. ‘

    ????

    I’ll finish by making the point that your opening thread is somewhat naive in ascribing the ending of slavery to capitalism particularly when we see how ‘authoritarian capitalism ‘ of the Chinese kind is so oppressive that employees commit suicide rather than work under some of the conditions imposed by both Chinese and American owned corporations in that country .

    Without the French and American revolutions and the subsequent efforts of the English Chartists and reformers and the political opposition of the English Labour party and it’s forerunners and the growth and strength of the Trades Union movement – both British and Irish workers and employees would have been a great deal worse off than they were.

  • “Marx was an idiot who knew nothing beyond the reading room of the British library”

    Harry

    Marx was hardly the only economist or philosopher who lived in an ivory tower, it is the nature of the beast. Although Marx’s accommodation was a lot less comfortable than those like Friedman, Keynes’s and countless others on the left, right, or centre, who had a university behind them to pick up the tab and support their work, making the work Marx turned out all the more impressive. Whether you like it or not, Libraries, the more so in Marx day, are where the info, statistic, etc, are collected and where intellectuals congregate to try and make sense of them, so the rest of us can understand them.

    I do wonder if you have read Marx, because even his critics regard his work highly, not least because it added something to our understanding of how capitalism works.

    Darwin, for example who was active in intellectual circles in England at the same time as Marx’s, regarded him highly, he offered to write a forward to one of Marx’s books, (I forget which) but was understandably talked out of it as Darwin was already in deep do dah with the god bothers, he felt to deliberately antagonise another powerful section of the establishment might be a step to far.

    Of course Marx never believed socialism could take root in an economically backward and semi feudal country like Russia, believing Germany was the most likely domino as for socialism to prosper it needed an advanced capitalist economy.

    To dismiss Marx as you and others do here, for me is on a par with those who dismiss Darwin. Yes, the human race has moved forward since their day, but human knowledge is a process of building blocks, and if we are to understand how we arrived where we are at, we simply cannot jump over those we have been told by others are idiots.

    Funny enough, until Mack jogged my mind here, I did much the same with economists like Friedman, whom I regarded as being beyond the pale; how stupid is that when he had such a massive influence in the direction the worlds economy went in the latter part of the 20th Century, etc.

    With respect you, and Mack seem to have made a similar mistake about Marx.

    Just some thoughts.

  • Jane Jaffers

    Harry Flashman

    You need to clarify what you mean by slavery.

    Specifically, what slavery did you see? Where and when?

    The above comes across like the “Daily Mail” x 10. Some evidence would be welcome along with self-righteousness and spittle.

    Your last sentence reminds me of two blackened items: a pot and a kettle.

    You wrote:
    “Free trade, free markets, liberal democracy, do not (as the most cursory glance at their descriptions would attest) create slavery”.

    I don’t remember where, but I recently read that in the US 150 years, it would have cost equivalent of $40,000. for a good quality, fit and healthy slave. Now a human can be bought for as little as $600 dollars (to own and do what you see fit) due to an oversupply.

    Is that not the invisible hand of the market in action? Pushing the value of a good down?

    “”Free trade, free markets, liberal democracy” can create whatever we allow it to create, whether it be iPads, landmines, red lemonade or human slaves.

  • lover not a fighter

    Did slavery build capitalism ? ?

    and if it did its unlikely that capitalism ended slavery.

  • Mack

    Slavery played a role in building capitalism, as capitalism required farming at a much higher level than subsistence levels. In fact it required that farm yields increase with the pace of the increase in demand for agricultural inputs into new industrial products. This probably could not have happened – initially, until the advent of farm mechanisation technology – without the ‘benefit’ of slavery. E.g. India provided Britain with the bulk of it’s cotton prior to the industrial reovlution, but susbistence level Indian farmers could not meet the demand for cotton from the English factories. That demand could only be met by the slaver ranges in the US south. Without that demand being met, industrial capitalism posisbly would have collapsed before it got started.

    However once industrialisation took route, it opened up other opportunities that made slave ownership uneconomic. Industrial Britain certainly did not need slaves (slaves are unsuitable for complex tasks with valuable machinery – they are suitable only for non-capital intensive labour intensive tasks) and once they had banned it, they had an incentive to ensure others could not avail of it to undercut British products (where possible).

  • Mack

    Greenflag –

    People rarely change their positions in a debate, and I don’t want this to degenerate into a fight. I’d respectfully ask that you reconsider your position in the light of the hardship real slaves endured. Your normally very much on the ball on matters historical, but I think your looking at this through a modern prism and underestimating the real horror, of real slavery.

    Look at it this way – 150 years ago there were free poor living in much greater poverty than that which afflicts any Westerner today. You can bet your boots they were glad to be freemen and not slaves. They had no running water, no clean water, no central heating, no refridgeration, no antibiotics, no hospital, no police service, no electricity, television, telephone, mobile phone, internet, they could not afford even candles. They did not manage cheap breaks to Ibiza (for £150 for a week), they could not communicate with their families back in the home land in internet cafe’s on skype for pennies, they could not enjoy out-of-season food from around the world all year round. Our illegal immigrant hero can enjoy all these luxuries. The Free Poor of a century ago could not, but yet I’m sure they valued their freedom.

    With 3% economic growth per year, an economy doubles every 24 years. That would mean (with 3% growth) the economy today could be around 128 times bigger than that 160 years ago (1850). So think about in those terms. People a couple of orders of magnitude poorer, than the poorest today, were still very glad of their freedom and counted their lucky stars they weren’t slaves. Nothing, outside of the relatively small number of cases of real slavery we have in the West compares to that today.

    Your idea, that anyone enjoying any of our modern luxuries as well as their freedom is a slave is an insult to the memory of real slaves who endured hellish conditions. Life expectancy for a slave on a Brazillian plantation? Less than 2 years!

  • Mack

    Fair comment.

  • Greenflag

    Mack ,

    I’m not disputing the very real benefits which economic growth has brought to millions but we do live in a different century and for better or worse people’s expectations have been raised . Modern westerners expected to have a higher standard of living than their parents . This may the first generation in western democracies who may aspire to do better than their parents but who may fail to achieve same – for a multiplicity of reasons of course.

    The average life expectancy in Manchester in the mid 19th century was about 19 years which is I’ll admit longer than that for Brazilian slaves of the same period but then in the mid 19th century British citizens were not slaves ?

  • Greenflag

    Free trade and free markets is a nonsense . Look at Mali in North Africa as just one example . The two pillars of the Mali economy are cottton in the south and cattle in the north . Both are in trouble because of the way Western powers violate the very rules they try to impose on impoverished third world nations .Mali produces cotton of top quality but the problem is that the financial support and subsidies that US Government gives to it’s own cotton farmers amounts to more than the entire national budget of Mali so it should come as no surprise taht so called free markets and free trade as regards ‘cotton’ is nonsense . In the North of Mali the culprit is the European Union : Malian beef cannot compete with heavily subsidised European milk and beef . The EU subsidises every single cow in the EU with around 500 euros a year . which is more than the per capita GDP in Mali.

    The Malian Minister for the economyput it succintly –
    ‘We don’t need your help or advice or lectures on the beneficial effects of abolishing excessive state regulation ;
    please just stick to your own rules about the free market and our troubles will basically be over .

    Where are the western defenders of the ‘free market ‘ in Mali ?

    Out of sight and for them hopefully out of mind . Liars and cheats and con men -silent as the graves of undernourished and starved Malians .

    I could call them liars and hypocrites but that would do an injustice to liars and hypocrites 🙁

  • Mack

    This may the first generation in western democracies who may aspire to do better than their parents but who may fail to achieve same

    This is way overly pessismistic. I’m 34, my generation is far better off than my parents. All of my friends have holidayed abroad for example (even long-term unemployed). When I was growing up, unlike my wifes family, we did actually make it away for a holiday a couple of times, by boat of course, not plane and we stayed in a tent not a hotel. We had 4 tv channels growing up, life expectancy was lower, infant mortality was higher, maternal mortality was higher during child birth. We had a dodgy block of a tv, with a worse signal, didn’t even have a video player, never mind a 46 inch high-definition 3d LED screen with blu-ray and sky – that will be standard in the next couple of years. Food was way more expensive, and much more limited. I recall Irish food, the odd time we actually did eat out, being much more bland. Calls to relatives in Belfast cost a fortune never mind the USA. There was no mobile phones or video calling (for free) by which my granny (the only grandparent alive) could see her grandchildren (all 4 of my daughters grandparents are alive today). Ireland was a country that exported it’s youth en masse for generations. The town I grew up in Northern Ireland, was bleak and depressing, no jobs, few shops and run down pubs. It’s transformed today.

    We’re in the midst of a bad recession / depression alright. But don’t lose sight that GDP will reset a few years back not decades or generations. Technology continues to progress and regress. And my parents generation experienced a couple of bad recessions (if not more) along the way. Nothing goes up in a straight line, but things are still getting better.

    The exponential function is a mathematical tsunami that overpowers everything in it’s path eventually. Economic growth is cumulative & compounds – barring unprecedented disaster (remember my Granny’s generation survived World War II, her mother WW 1, her grand-mother the famine etc) it ultimately follows an exponential path. That’s enough to beat any recession or reactionary force into submission in the long run..

  • Greenflag

    Mack ,

    ‘This is way overly pessismistic.’

    It’s not my intention to be overly anything . I prefer to look at things as they are and were and to project forward while holding firm to the core belief that past performance is NO guarantee of future results as the small print says . While I share and agree with much of your comment re comparison of the here and now with both your’s and mine parents and grandparents generations in Ireland and elsewhere , nevertheless the overall picture looking forward from this point is imo different from looking forward from even a late 1980’s perspective much less that from say a mid 1960’s or even a 1930’s timeview . Voters have a notoriously short term memory . While most people are aware that they are better off than their grandparents and or parents that’s NOT how they decide their ‘politics’ in the here and now or their response to current economic strictures . We don’t compare ourselves to our parents . People in ROI in the 1960’s did not compare their standard of living to that of people in the famine era -they compared it the then UK standard of living and the postwar UK recovery .

    What is different now is we can no longer look to ‘nation states’ as being the arbiters of their own economic destiny,
    The USA president has made that clear in his speech before the G8 summit when he stated that the world’s major economies are so inextricably linked that we all rise or fall if one or other of the major economic powers in the world economic equation takes an economic policy decision at odds with the overall consensus . There is some concern on the part of the Americans at Mr Osborne’s budgetary ‘solution’ to the UK’s perceived economic implosion and to a lesser extent that of Germany and the other EU countries
    The ‘exponential ‘ function i.e money makes money and the money that money makes makes even more money and so on ad infinitum is subject to breakdown as in depressions , recessions , bubble bursts etc . While in the longer term a new ‘equilibrium ‘ may or will be found there is also the possibility that long before the ‘longer term ‘ comes around people will have found other ‘political solutions’ to the economic crisis which would not be to either your or my liking .We can’t all be ‘niche ‘ marketeers . There are 7 billion people on the planet of whom probably 6.5 billion are paid less than the average wage in Ireland or the UK .

    Karl Marx’s analysis of how economics determines political history contains more than a grain of truth even if his ‘prescriptive ‘ political solution proved worse than the disease . We now live in an ‘age’ when the reverse of Marx’s axiom has been the case for the past two decades i.e the ‘politics ‘of the neo conservatism of the 1990’s and 2000’s has determined the current worldwide economic outcome .What makes the current situation ‘worse’ in my perspective is that none of the politicians neither on the right or left know how to exit the current crisis without ‘crucifying’ their middle and working classes. We now hear British Conservative Minister Ian Duncan Smith talking of ‘incentivising ‘ the unemployed living in public housing areas in the economic wastelands of England to ‘emigrate’ to where the jobs are ? presumably the South of England . The fact that there will be another million unemployed before this time next year has not crossed the Minister’s mind or perhaps it has and he’d rather not mention it ?

    We are back to Thatcher v Keynes or Friedman v Keynes . The world’s political elite are still running circles in the rutted grooves of economic history ;(