I would not wish either slavery or socialism upon another. Both are foul impositions, crushings of human liberty. By socialism here I do mean the top down Stalinist, Maoist, type, not folks a’gatherin’ together to sell fish to the middle classes a la Waitrose.
But it’s an interesting question as to whether one is worse than the other. Which brings us to something that David Starkey said, misrepresented here by Joseph Harker:
Let us not forget that an intellectual hero for many of these writers is historian David Starkey, a prominent media voice for decades, who this summer seemed to almost regret that “so many damn blacks” had survived slavery.
No, Starkey was making exactly the opposite point. That there are many descendants of slaves in the United States shows that – in physical terms only, not moral nor concerning liberty – slavery wasn’t all that bad.
There are not, for example, many descendants of sub-Saharan males slaves in the Arab world these days because those males brought from sub-Saharan Africa were usually castrated. Using the full lop off technique which led to 90% dying at that point and only 10% making the onward journey. The conditions of slavery make a difference to the number of descendants of slaves extant.
We can also look to David Ricardo and his – as it later turned out incorrect – view that wages will always trend down to mere subsistence level. Subsistence being defined as being able, over time, to replace this generation of workers with the next. Wages must be high enough to enable this to happen. Or perhaps we should turn to Malthus, an implication of his work being that if the population is expanding generation by generation then – as with Ricardo – wages must be above that mere subsistence level.
Note that “wages” here actually mean consumption. We’re not talking about being paid coin, rather, how much food, shelter, clothing etc do people get to consume?
So, many descendants, or perhaps a natural increase in the population, leads us to conclude – and there is no other possible conclusion either – that living standards in purely physical terms must be above subsistence. Yes, it’s true, this was an argument used by Jefferson Davis and others but the truth of an argument depends upon the truth of the argument, not whoever has used or twisted it. Davis using the “great natural increase” to justify slavery which isn’t my point here at all. Rather, I am reversing the ferret, pointing out that the great natural increase must – must – mean consumption higher than subsistence.
We can also, and should, differentiate within slavery. Sugar plantations were very different from cotton. So much so that slavers deliberately decided against importing many women to sugar islands or environments. On the basis that they were going to work to death their slaves and there would be no time nor money to be had out of trying to grow their own. Or, as we can also put that, sugar plantations operated below subsistence level the very absence of even trying for a natural increase being the proof. Cotton plantations – as to why more detail required but my first assumption would be that female and child labour were both useful upon them in a manner they weren’t for sugar – did have the natural increase. The grand difference between Caribbean and American slavery being that sugar was, outside small areas of Louisiana, virtually unknown as a crop while, outside certain places like Union Island, cotton was not grown in the Caribbean.
OK, so that’s the set up to the research we’d really like to see. The natural increase, great or not, of a population is a good guide to which side of the subsistence line – and how far to the side – that population is living.
We have a guide to the American slave descended population. 400,000 or so landed and 40 million descendants today. Around and about. Or what was it, 4 million in 1860, something like that?
OK, so was socialism worse than this? What was the rate of natural increase of the kulaks from Lenin to today? That of the urban population from Pol Pot to today? Of Cuba under Castro?
I don’t actually know the answer but wouldn’t it be fascinating to find out? Was socialism, that actually existing version imposed, worse than slavery? The number of children who survived it being our proof either way.