Are Americans Pro-Slavery?

by | Jun 11, 2008

Let’s do a thought experiment asking whether Americans are for or against slavery. You might say, “What are you talking about, Williams? We fought a war that cost over 600,000 lives to end slavery!” To get started, we might find a description that captures the essence of slavery. A good working description is: slavery is […]

Let’s do a thought experiment asking whether Americans are for or against slavery. You might say, “What are you talking about, Williams? We fought a war that cost over 600,000 lives to end slavery!” To get started, we might find a description that captures the essence of slavery. A good working description is: slavery is a set of circumstances whereby one person is forcibly used to serve the purposes of another person and has no legal claim to the fruits of his labor.

The average American worker toils from January 1st to the end of April, and has no legal claim to the fruits of his labor for that period. Federal, state and local governments, through the tax code, take what he produces. A small portion of the fruits of his labor is used to provide for the constitutional functions of government. Most of what’s taken, up to two-thirds, is given to some other American in the forms of farm and business subsidies, Social Security, Medicare, welfare and hundreds of other government handout programs. As in slavery, one person is being forcibly used to serve the purposes of another person.

You might ask, “Williams, aren’t you a bit off base? Slavery means that you are owned by another person.” Who owns a person is not nearly important as who has the rights to use that person. In other words, a plantation owner having the power to force a black to work for him would have been just as well off, and possibly better off, not owning him. Not owning him means not having to bear medical expenses and loss of wealth if the slave died. During World War II, Nazis didn’t own Jews, but they had the power to force them to labor for them. Not owning Jews meant that working and starving them to death had little cost to the Nazis. The fact that American slaves were owned, with prices sometimes ranging from $800 to $1,300, meant that owners had a financial stake in the slave’s well-being and they were not worked and starved to death.

You might argue that my analogy is irrelevant because unlike American slaves and Nazi concentration camp inmates, we can come and go as we please, live where we want, buy a car, clothes and other things with the money left over after the government gets four months’ worth of our earnings. But, does that make much of a difference?

During slavery, visitors to the South often observed “a great many loose negroes about.” Officials in Savannah, Mobile and Charleston and other cities complained about “nominal slaves,” “virtually free negroes,” and “quasi free negroes” who were seemingly oblivious to any law or regulation. Frederick Douglass, a slave, explained this phenomenon when he was employed as a Baltimore ship’s caulker: “I was to be allowed all my time; to make bargains for work; to find my own employment, and to collect my own wages; and in return for this liberty, I was

Walter Williams (March 31, 1936 – December 1, 2020) was an American economist, commentator, academic, and columnist at Capitalism Magazine. He was the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, and a syndicated editorialist for Creator's Syndicate. He is author of Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?, and numerous other works.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

Have a comment?

Post your response in our Capitalism Community on X.

Related articles

Are the Democrats betraying Israel?

Are the Democrats betraying Israel?

Both Biden and his predecessor, President Barack Obama, promised that they had Israel’s back, but it now appears that they are painting a target on its back at a time of its greatest vulnerability.

No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.

Pin It on Pinterest