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Was Slavery a Wealth Builder?

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Easy Truth
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There is an attempt to conflate the benefits of Capitalism with the effects of Slavery.

In this Debate Yaron is pushed into a corner (which he pushes back) with the idea that many interviews with "experts" have determined that Slavery in a sense created wealth. And Yaron dismisses it by

1. The interviews were with people with a certain political agenda  

2. More wealth has been created post slavery

3. Slavery has existed before the United States

4. Slavery economically was not a plus but a negative

Meanwhile, the fundamental question of Slavery creating wealth was not directly challenged (adequately depth and detail). Ultimately it has to be challenged and destroyed otherwise this argument against Capitalism constantly resurfaces.

The fact is that we can't get around the fact that thievery can enrich the thief. And government supported thievery against a "group" can redistribute their wealth. In this case the wealth of the slave i.e. what he or she created with their labor.

Now, once the wealth has been created, would there have been more aggregate wealth if there had been no thievery at all?

 

 

 

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I think of the broken window fallacy where the focus is on all the downstream positives that occur because a kid hit a baseball shattering the glass as it went through it.

The glacier now has money to spend that in turn benefits who he spent it on and so forth.

Henry Hazlitt goes on to point out how the suit the money was going to be spent on was not purchased, which the tailor did not have the profits to in turn spend on what he wanted.

While the thief may be 'enriched' by the theft, it does not negate the fact that without productive minds, what would be available for a wannabe thief to steal?

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I had a similar thought when I read the OP.

But more along the lines that wealth or capital would be produced. Though at the loss of creativity and ingenuity that such a system stifles.

Material wealth or capital would be produced but its production and subsequent use would be less efficient. 

Capitalism is based primarily in morality, practical praxis notwithstanding.

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I also recently heard some more arguments:

1. There are other societies that had even more slavery like Haiti or Brazil that did not do as well as the United States in their economy.

2. To say there was zero labor cost is false. The "owners" had to give a minimum standard of living to have viable workers. That included lodging, food and southern government had to spend a lot to maintain the system i.e. catch runaways. This expense was constant 24 hours a day even when there was no "work" to be done.

3. The fact that the slave could not go looking for job meant the areas of the economy that needed the most labor could never attract the labor, therefore never achieving maximal efficiency.

4. Slavery in general serviced the wishes of the owner, as in the pyramids which were built by slaves, and pyramids don't do much for an economy.

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9 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

1. There are other societies that had even more slavery like Haiti or Brazil that did not do as well as the United States in their economy.

This is easily related to the amount of land available as compared to Haiti, and the available land for growing cotton as compared to Brazil. The US wins in both ways.

9 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

2. To say there was zero labor cost is false. The "owners" had to give a minimum standard of living to have viable workers. That included lodging, food and southern government had to spend a lot to maintain the system i.e. catch runaways. This expense was constant 24 hours a day even when there was no "work" to be done.

You have to do this with livestock. Would you say that livestock has a labor cost? Speaking of the labor itself, nothing is exchanged, so in that way, the cost is made zero. What does this point matter anyway? Unless we mean that this increases profit margin.

9 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

3. The fact that the slave could not go looking for job meant the areas of the economy that needed the most labor could never attract the labor, therefore never achieving maximal efficiency.

Why does maximum efficiency matter? Less than maximum efficiency can still produce wealth, and the argument is that slavery built wealth in some sense, not that slavery built the most amount of wealth.

10 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

4. Slavery in general serviced the wishes of the owner, as in the pyramids which were built by slaves, and pyramids don't do much for an economy.

Could they not stimulate trade for raw materials and everything else surrounding the production of pyramids?

=

I don't see how you could say that slavery did not or could not produce wealth in some sense. 

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I think there is also an insidious anti-concept lurking in the idea of some kind of arithmetical "total wealth" which makes the concept meaningless.

The idea of creation of wealth is provably valid in a narrow situation when both parties trade voluntarily, because that implies both parties in the transaction benefit (to the best of their knowledge), and hence wealth is created. 

BUT when you have some parties clearly losing wealth or health or rights in forced transactions, where others benefit, the losses and wins to those different people are in some sense incommensurate, and at least any claim about the sum total wealth is an arbitrary claim.  How much is freedom worth?  How much are rights worth?  How much is life worth if you live as a parasite?  How much worth is destroyed by an arrangement such as slavery?

If 10 people can generate 10 units of economic productivity when they are all free and alive, but if one were to enslave the 9 others and he could extract 100 units of productivity while working them literally to death... what do we say of the measure of so called "wealth" of 100 in the hands of a single survivor murderer versus 10 in the hands of a group of happy free living people?

 

The idea that there is a simple calculus of total "wealth" in the context of different individuals is fraught with difficulty and oversimplification leads to the very ideas of Ulititarianism and the redistribution of wealth.

 

 

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1 hour ago, StrictlyLogical said:

How much is freedom worth?  How much are rights worth?  How much is life worth if you live as a parasite?  How much worth is destroyed by an arrangement such as slavery?

These are in fact interesting questions.

As a black and white, true or false question: Freedom or Slavery, which one do you want? The answer becomes freedom (assuming you value a life worth living).

Then the question becomes are you willing to fight for it? Or die for it?

And if the answer is yes, then one concludes it is worth "a lot" for that person. But the counter argument would be "well, not everyone (a slave owner) thinks slavery is worthless" and may even fight to keep slavery.

Could the value of freedom or rights be determined by a marketplace, where supply and demand determine the price of "freedom" or "rights"?

In the case of the former East and West Germany, in aggregate, the amount of people running in one or the other direction has indicated something.

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I find SL's line of thought in his post above intriguing. I incline to think nonetheless so far that there is some sense to the idea that an entire society of slaves to the State, such as was the Soviet Union, did create wealth, when we mean simply their GNP or GDP. Granted that, it would seem the urgent natural question becomes whether such a society in which the State owns and manages everything creates more wealth, has a greater GDP, in comparison to the same peoples and region were the society organized instead with private ownership. East and West Germany seemed a rather definitive answer, as pointed out by JFK in his "Let them come to Berlin" speech.

I notice for the American history an informative argument No, Slavery Did Not Make America Rich.

Edited by Boydstun
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  • 4 weeks later...

Slavery did not create wealth in the United States.

Slavery in the United States created surplus product, and the sellers of the surplus product gained money.

But wealth?

Wealth is much more complicated than just money.

To control wealth from the perspective of the government means you have legally acquired assets

which the government is authorized and empowered to protect.

Money is only wealth if it is held securely without fear of seizure.

The United States Government invalidated the South's legal sanctions on ownership of slaves with the 13th Amendment.

In retrospect, slavery was deemed unconstitutional. Therefore, according to Objectivist interpretation of social contract theory, it was never the right of any person to own another person as property.

Money earned from selling the products of slaves was not authorized by constitutional law,

therefore it was not wealth.

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