Research We’d Really Like To See – Is Socialism Worse Than Slavery?

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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.

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decnine
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decnine

A few years ago – I think around the bicentenary of slave trade abolition – I recall it being said that emancipation in the West Indies was seen as inevitable eventually. Natural Increase being the reason given for said inevitability. So even in the sugar plantations…

Bloke in North Dorset
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Bloke in North Dorset

That was the case in Haiti where the white French spent a lot of time worrying about the numbers of blacks and they went to brutal lengths to keep them down.

Spike
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Spike

American slaves did not own wealth (not even their own selves), so whether they procreated beyond the rate of replacement is not a “measure” of whether they earned more than subsistence wages. A captivity with ample procreation is not better than a captivity with low procreation. If it were, one could design a socialist regime with harsh penalties for not having enough kids.

Leo Savantt
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Leo Savantt

“A captivity with ample procreation is not better than a captivity with low procreation.”

Surely a captivity that allows for marriage and a family life is better than a captivity that does not, because surely there are different grades of captivity.

Barks
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Barks

Difficult to discus the economics of it without quickly getting into the morals of it, isn’t it?

Spike
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Spike

Impossible, I’d say.

Leo: There is basically only one grade of captivity. All we are discussing is the most expedient way to treat the slaves.

American slaves (likewise Soviet subjects) may have had sex and procreation, but not “marriage and a family life” in the sense of the family being the essential social unit.

Modern Americans are reproducing under the replacement rate; does that mean we are unfree?

john77
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john77

Nicolae Ceacescu invented a “socialist” regime with large incentives to have children (including large penalties for not having them by taxes on the childless). Result a population increase and a large number of children in orphanages: within months of his death the birth rate had dropped well below replacement level (implying a rise in abortions among those pregnant at the time) also a violent revolution which overthrew him and passed a law abolishing the death penalty days after he and his wife were executed. Implying that a captivity with forced procreation is worse than a captivity with voluntary procreation.That does… Read more »

Michael van der Riet
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Michael van der Riet

I believe that young male slaves who looked as if they could impregnate large numbers of female slaves with hardship-resistant muscular children, were greatly sought after at auctions. No I cannot cite a source and my belief may stem from Hollywood or bodice rippers.

John B
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John B

‘… not folks a’gatherin’ together to sell fish to the middle classes a la Waitrose.‘

That’s not Socialism, it’s ‘the Members In Company’. What happens when a bunch of folks invest financial/Human capital in an enterprise and then divvy up the profits. There is no not top-down Socialism.

Bloke in North Dorset
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Bloke in North Dorset

Socialism isn’t meant to be top down, it just happens to always end up that way, hence the “true socialism’s never been tried” excuse.

John B
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John B

Slavery means complete absence of economic liberty and lack of sovereignty of the individual, that is the individual no longer owns their body nor decides nor owns their labour or its output. Wages are irrelevant to the definition.

In Socialism there is no individual ownership of self or labour output, ownership is collective as represented by the State.

Socialism and slavery are synonyms.

Bloke in Germany
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Bloke in Germany

Yes! With the added correlation that all socialist societies eventually have to use border guards with guns to stop people from leaving.

Boganboy
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Boganboy

When I visited East Berlin many years ago, I found it amusing that the communists had trouble with all the people who wanted to get out while we had trouble with all the people who wanted to get in.

Pat
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Pat

It would also be worth checking whether the descendants of slaves sourced from West Africa are better or worse off than the descendants of non slaves left in West Africa. Wealth per head, income per head, increase/decrease in population should all be considered.
And it should be born in mind that the descendants of slaves likely improved their condition after being freed, but that the period of slavery was the sacrifice they had imposed on them that resulted in their living in a richer society.

Spike
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Spike

This is silly! Of course nearly all African-Americans are better off than nearly all Africans. This is a testament to migrations, not to slavery. No slave would have elected to exchange the collectivism of an African tribe for a LIFETIME of slavery on a foreign continent even if he knew that, generations later, slavery would be abolished and his descendants would live better.

Pat
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Pat

But how many African Americans would choose to live Africa?
I’ll wager there are more Africans seeking entry into America than vice versa

Spike
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Spike

Absolutely! no one is rushing to emigrate to Africa, not even Liberia, the dictatorship with US-style constitution that reserves all rights for black people. Not even African Americans who see fit to claim that police hunt them for sport.

That is still not a commentary on slavery. America “had to crawl before it could walk” but no one knew slavery would be abolished.

Boganboy
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Boganboy

Yes. I understand that Liberia was originally set up in the hope that all the freed blacks would go back to Africa. Even then, most of them decided to stay in the US.