Saturday, September 10, 2016

Harsh, but concise

I'd have probably phrased this far more politely, but I'd have used more words, too.

I do understand the idea that our society's wealth was built in part on slavery.  However, I don't think that's still accurate.  Some people feel it wasn't true in Europe, but was true in the U.S.:
The answer is "no"; slavery did not create a major share of the capital that financed the European industrial revolution. The combined profits of the slave trade and West Indian plantations did not add up to five percent of Britain's national income at the time of the industrial revolution.
In the pre-Civil War United States, a stronger case can be made that slavery played a critical role in economic development. One crop, slave-grown cotton, provided over half of all US export earnings. By 1840, the South grew 60 percent of the world's cotton and provided some 70 percent of the cotton consumed by the British textile industry. Thus slavery paid for a substantial share of the capital, iron, and manufactured goods that laid the basis for American economic growth. In addition, precisely because the South specialized in cotton production, the North developed a variety of businesses that provided services for the slave South, including textile factories, a meat processing industry, insurance companies, shippers, and cotton brokers.
Here's the problem with assuming that the growth was all supported by slavery:  it didn't stop when slavery ended.  I'm reading James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom."  The economic explosion of the mid 1800's was due to industrialization and capitalism.  The above quotation says slavery paid for a large portion of the capital, but when slavery ended the growth continued.  The money kept flowing.  Further, the rapidly growing North was a stark contrast to the traditional, stagnant South.  The money in the North came from lending, the way it does now.  Banks lent money to capitalists who used it to generate more by industrializing production.  Did Northern banks get the money to lend from Southern slavery?  Probably not.  Banks were more localized institutions then.  Money didn't flow long distances in the U.S. of the 1800's, except along the railroad routes.

Had slavery not existed the way all good people wish it hadn't, industrialization and capitalism would have expanded the economy exactly the way it did in Europe. Since the abolition of slavery, the economy has multiplied so much that it owes no more to slavery than Walmart owes to mom and pop five and dime stores.  

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