Free Labor

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 5th, 2011

Economics 101

Unlike Slaves Paid-Laborers Worked, Went Home and Fed & Housed their Own Families

Agriculture advances gave us food surpluses.  Food surpluses gave us a division of labor.  The division of labor gave us trade.  Money made that trade more efficient.  Religion and the Rule of Law allowed great gatherings of people to live and work together in urban settings.  Free trade let us maximize this economic output and elevated our standard of living.  And to sustain this economic growth we needed something else.  Free labor.

Slavery as an economic model has serious defects.  For one the labor is not free.  People are restrained against their will.  And only work to minimize their pain and suffering.  They do not think or innovate.  Their human capital is wasted.  Because no one voluntarily thinks and innovates to make a better life for others.  Especially if it  won’t improve their own life.  A slave, then, has little incentive to think or innovate.  Their incentive is to follow orders.  Because that was the proven way to minimize their pain and suffering.

Buying human beings is also less efficient than renting them.  Not everyone in a slave family was in their working prime.  The elderly couldn’t work the fields anymore.  Neither could the infant children.  But they all needed room and board.  Unlike a paid laborer.  Who you paid only for the hours they worked.  You didn’t feed or house them.  They worked and went home.  And fed and housed their own families. This is why George Washington wanted to sell his slaves and replace them with paid laborers.  To increase his profits.  But he found people were only interested in buying slaves in their working prime.  He could sell some.  But not all of them.  Which meant breaking up slave families.  Something he couldn’t do.  So he kept his slaves.  Settled for lower profits.  And kept the slave families together.

The Slave-Economy in the New World was a Step Backward toward Old World Aristocracy

Not everyone was as kind as Washington.  Some people had no problem breaking up families.  Or abusing their slaves.  But they all had to exercise restraint.  Because a maimed or a dead slave couldn’t work.  A problem for slave owners because they bought their slaves.  Often borrowing money for the purchase.  So it was costly to replace them.  As well as to train them.  One skilled in picking cotton may not readily take to harvesting and drying tobacco.  Whereas you could simply advertise for a hired hand who was skilled in harvesting and drying tobacco if you used free labor.

Free labor added to the economy.  Because they had earnings for economic exchange.  Slaves didn’t.  The slave owner provided their room and board.  So they were not only enslaved they were also dependent on others for everything free laborers bought with their earnings.  Economic exchanges in a slave economy, then, were limited to the wealthy landowners.  Making it a system much like European feudalism or Russian serfdom.  Only instead of peasants or serfs there were slaves.  Who were less free.  And even poorer.

Thus the slave-economy in the New World was a step backward toward Old World aristocracy.  (And a little beyond it.)  Where there were a few rich and a lot of poor.  Agricultural reform came with the help of the Black Death.  When the balance of power tipped from the landed aristocracy to the much thinned out labor force.  Who could then demand wages and better conditions.  And then came capitalism.  For those new wage-earners had money for economic exchanges.  Which they made.  Thus producing a prosperous middle class.  Which took root in the New World.  At least, in the parts of the New World that used free labor.

Our Capacity to Think is the Key to Unlocking our Human Capital, Economic Growth and the Quality of Life

The great problem of slavery (other than the moral one) is that it excluded a great part of the population from the economy.  Slavery excluded millions of people from making economic exchanges.  And millions who might have thought and created didn’t.  Their human capital was wasted.  Setting economic development back.  As well as the quality of life.

In a modern capitalistic economy there must be no slavery.  Or dependency.  Because those enslaved or dependent do not create.  Or innovate.  They just exist.  And do not maximize the gift of being human.  Our capacity to think.  Which is the key to unlocking our human capital.  Economic growth.  And the quality of life.

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