LESSONS LEARNED #60: “Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Fool me again shame on public education.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 8th, 2011

Slaves were Costly and Inefficient

George Washington made a profit on his plantation.  Better than some of his fellow Founding FathersThomas Jefferson couldn’t make a profit and was forever in debt.  But Washington could.  And did.  And would have been more profitable had he split up his slave families.  You see, he wanted to sell his slaves and use paid-laborers instead.  Why?  Because paid-labor was more profitable than slave-labor?  “What?!?” you ask.    Yes, that’s right.  Paid-labor was more profitable than slave-labor.  For a couple of reasons. 

First of all, slaves weren’t free.  People bought them at auction.  And anyone familiar with an auction knows that people sell to the highest bidder.  So there was an initial ‘investment’ in a slave that you didn’t have with a paid-laborer.  Think of this as the difference of buying or renting a house.  If you buy you pay a lot of money to own the house.  And you are responsible for all of the maintenance and upkeep on the house.  It’s different with renting.  You pay just a little bit each month for as long as you stay in the house.  It’s similar with paid-labor.  You rent people for the time they work.  Then they go home and feed and house themselves.  Slaves didn’t go home.  Because they were home.  And planters had to feed and house them.  And attend to their other needs.  These costs added up.  Especially if you had a lot of slaves out of their working prime (old men and young children) that you still had to feed and house.  And these are what Washington had a lot of.  Many generations of non-working slaves that he had to feed and house.  Which is why he wanted to sell them.  But people only wanted the workers.  Not the rest of the family.  But he refused to break up the slaves families.  So he kept them.  Even though it was a poor business decision.

Now Washington was no abolitionist, but he saw the conflict between the institution of slavery and the American ideal.  But his motives were financial at first.  His large crop of tobacco was not a money-maker.  So he wanted to diversify his crops.  And his risks.  Which meant different labor skills for different crops.  And this favored paid-labor.  Because you can always hire skilled laborers to grow these different crops.  Which was the great disadvantage of slave-labor.  Their advantage was in the large, single-crop plantation where a diverse skill-set was not required.  Trained in one skill, they kept repeating that single skill on a grand scale.  It was the best you could hope for from slave-labor.  Where people did the minimum to avoid punishment.  For that was their only incentive.  Paid-laborers, on the other hand, you can fire them.  Or reward them for bumper crops.  So they have an incentive to hone their skills and become the best at what they do.

King Cotton Abdicates

But Washington couldn’t break up the slave families.  And there was no way to give them the many years of farming skills overnight in these new skill areas and turn them into proper paid-laborers.  Who could take care of themselves and their families while integrating them into free society.  Unless he gave up his day job.  So he continued to use slave-labor.  However, his will freed his slaves after his wife passed away.  He and his wife were the last generation to live the old way of life.  His successors were to live the new way of life.  His will further instructed to teach the newly freed slaves trade skills and help them integrate into free society.

Many critics of the United States like to point to the institution of slavery and say that is why we became a great nation.  That we grew rich on slave-labor.  That we reaped huge profits because slaves were free.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  First of all, as noted above, slave-labor was not free labor.  It was costly.  And inefficient.  It was such a bad business model that it had almost died of its own accord.  As many of the Founding Fathers had earnestly wished.  But something happened.  Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin.  Now machines could separate the seeds from the cotton faster than they could pick it.  All of a sudden the large, single-crop, cotton plantations in the south needed to plant, grow and pick more cotton than ever before.  To feed these new, hungry machines.  Cotton was the new high-demand fabric.  The textile markets in Great Britain couldn’t buy enough of it.  And the Southern economy flourished like it had never did before.  Southern planters grew rich.  As did the Southern economy.  King Cotton they called it.  Because cotton was king.

And that is why the South lost the Civil War.  For if cotton was king that meant the South was a monarchy.  And for all intents and purposes, it was.  Most Southerners didn’t own slaves.  Most were poor.  Working on family farms.  The institution of slavery didn’t tarnish them.  No.  The rich planters owned the vast majority of the slaves.  The planter elite.  The planter aristocracy.  And it was an aristocracy in every sense of the word.  Just watch the classic Gone with the Wind and tell me what that world reminds you more of.  America?  Or European feudalism?  That wasn’t America.  America was the poor southerner working the family farm.  And the poor northerner working the family farm.  It was not inherited wealth passed from generation to generation.  Wealth created by labor bonded in servitude attached to the land (serfs in Europe, slaves in America).  No, this was not America.  It was a charmed life for the privileged few.  But only the privileged few.  Because it mattered what your last name was.

Laissez-Faire Capitalism wins the Civil War

The North won the Civil War because it was more laissez-faire capitalism.  The South had the better generals at the beginning of the war.  And the Southern soldier was a formidable foe in combat.  But factories in the North fed Northern shipyards.  Which built a navy that blockaded southern ports.  Making all that cotton worthless.  Great Britain would then turn to India for her cotton needs.  So much for King Cotton. 

The Southern economy was a cotton economy without a market.  They had factories and shipyards, too, buy not like the industrialized North.  The South never had a chance.  Unless she could strike a winning blow early.  Because they could not win a war of attrition.  Which is what the Civil War became.  Especially after the Confederate ‘high water’ mark.  Gettysburg.  The Confederacy shrank as the Union Army advanced.  Fed by a growing network of railroads.  This relentless advance of man and material made possible by the prudent investment of capital by savvy investors.  The genius of entrepreneurs.  And the drive of industrialists.

This miracle of capitalism would tip the scales again in World War I.  And in World War II.  The Arsenal of Democracy.  Laissez-faire capitalism.  Paid-laborers.  Incentive.  And profit.  The best things in life.  They gave us the comforts we now take for granted.  And they took us from a new nation to a superpower in little over one hundred years.

Pliant, Subservient Students grow up to become good Democratic Voters

So that’s history.  But people today still think slavery made us great.  They attack capitalism.  Incentive.  Profits.  And just about everything else that built and made this country great.  Why?  Because they learned somewhere that slavery made us great.  That capitalism is bad and unfair.  That incentive and profits exploit the working class.  Where?  In our public schools.  And our public universities.  Kids in our public institutions learn these things.  Not the things that made us great.  Because these schools indoctrinate.  They don’t educate.  Why?  For the same reason the planter aristocracy fought in the Civil War.  To protect a privileged class.

Today, the liberal Democrats are the descendants of the planter aristocracy.  Not literally.  But figuratively.  Liberal Democrats are not capitalists.  Or industrialists.  They don’t like incentive or profit.  They prefer patronage.  They like rewarding their friends.  And punishing their enemies.  And to have this power they need to have the people vote for them.  So they come across as the champion of the poor and friend of the working man.  Or any other minority or class of people whose vote they need to buy.  But they’re anything but.  For an example just look at one of their favorite cause célèbre.  The black family.  These white liberals want to ease other whites’ guilt over slavery by doing as much as they can for the black family.  To make up for all those years of injustice.  And they dropped a neutron bomb.  Aid to Families with Dependent Children.  AFDC.  A real feel-good thing to do.  But it led to an explosion of single-mother families in the black community.  Because of the incentives of the program.  It encouraged women to have more children.  Stay unmarried.  And not work.  For a young woman with no working skill this was a godsend.  The state would replace the father and provide for her and her children.  But as it turned out, the state was a very poor father figure.  Children need fathers.  We all know this.  That’s why there are big brother programs.  To provide a father figure for these fatherless children.  For they will stray without this strong role model in the family.  And have.  Economist Thomas Sowell blames AFDC for greatly destroying the black family.

But the liberal Democrats don’t look at the destruction they cause.  They look at the political power they’ve gained.  Much like the planter elite.  So they need to tweak history a bit.  To mask their failures.  And accentuate the good they meant to do.  But never did.  And what better way to do that than in our public schools?  So they take care of our teachers.  Pull them into their aristocratic class.  Help them get favorable contracts without allowing the taxpayers a say.  Feed them big salaries.  Some of which is returned to them via their union dues.  Quid pro quo. They live the good life.  The politicians get ‘campaign’ contributions.  And pliant, subservient students grow up to become good Democratic voters.

And thus the lie is sustained.  Those who destroy are portrayed as nurturers.  And those who nurture are portrayed as destroyers.  A political sleight of hand.  That pays dividends in the voting booth.

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