Slavery vs. Capitalism: The 1619 Project Not Only Ignores Actual History, But Basic Economics

by | Sep 22, 2020 | History

Photo Hussain Badshah / Unsplash
People who believe that slavery is an efficient system of production are people who are ready to impose 100% marginal rates of taxation in the belief that doing so is economically harmless.

Ancient Rome, Greece, Babylon, Egypt, India, China, and Africa too, all had slavery. None of them created the Industrial Revolution. Great Britain and the United States did create the Industrial Revolution, on a foundation of economic freedom and respect for individual rights.

The great blemish of slavery played no greater positive role in the history of the US than it had played previously in the world, which is to say, virtually none. Ignoring its overwhelming negatives, its utmost positive contribution here may have been a temporarily larger supply of raw cotton.

But even that is probably not true. Free labor could have picked cotton. True, it would have had to be paid more than a wage equal to the price of a slave’s minimum necessities, but it undoubtedly would have been less expensive per pound of cotton picked.

Free labor would have done away with the cost of a system of overseers and the cost of acquiring slaves. It could easily have been accompanied by a system of piecework and thus eager competition among workers in picking more cotton and thereby earning more money.

Free workers would also have been motivated to find brand new ways to increase production because they would have financially greatly benefitted from doing so. Thus, improvements in raw cotton production might have come generations sooner.

People who believe that slavery is an efficient system of production are people who are ready to impose 100% marginal rates of taxation in the belief that doing so is economically harmless.

The alleged economic benefit of slavery is a core belief of the Left both in current politics and in the interpretation of economic history. It sees no connection between freedom and production and no difference between work for positive gain and work to avoid pain.

Fundamentally, the Left does not recognize the distinction between human beings and draft animals, in that it believes the value of human beings derives from their muscles rather than their motivated minds.

So far as slavery from having been a source of gain in the United States that the actual truth is that had it never existed and had no African ever been involuntarily brought to the US, the effect would have been enormously positive economically, socially, and culturally.

Incentives to produce and save would have been greatly increased. No portion of accumulated savings would have been constituted by the market value of human beings but only by that of physical assets, implying the accumulation of more physical assets.

There would have been no need for a Civil War to free the slaves, a war that killed 600,000 Americans. And today there would be no racial animosities traceable to slavery.

The US would be more the country that its fundamental principles have designed it to be. A country in which the material self-interests of men function harmoniously, to the benefit of all, because they deal with one another by means of voluntary trade, not physical force.

Slavery is as much an economic benefit as holding up gas stations. Not only does the gas station owner lose what the robber gains, but both his motivation to produce and his means of producing are reduced. A world of robbery, which is what slavery is, is a world of great poverty.

This is why the standard of living of even the kings and emperors of the pre-industrial world was far below that of the average worker in any capitalist country today.

To learn more, see my “Capitalism: The Cure for Racism” and then my Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics, both available at https://amzn.to/2NLvVVZ

Originally published at the blog of George Reisman. Copyright 2020 George Reisman. All rights reserved.

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George Reisman, Ph.D., is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics and the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. See his Amazon.com author's page for additional titles by him. Visit his website capitalism.net and his blog atGeorgeReismansBlog.blogspot.com. Watch his YouTube videos and follow @GGReisman on Twitter.

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