Paid Labor vs. Slave Labor

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 15th, 2013

Economics 101

Paid-Laborers are Rented as Needed while Slave-Laborers are Owned even when not Needed

There is a common misconception that slave labor was free labor.  The argument goes that the United States got rich because of all their free slave labor.  They’ll say this despite knowing of the immense suffering of African slaves on the slave ships.  Who came to the New World where slave traders auctioned them off.  This was the slave trade.  The key word in this is ‘trade’.  African slave traders sold them to European slave traders.  Who auctioned them off in New World slave markets.  To feed a labor-hungry market.

People bought and sold slaves.  And anything you buy and sell is not free.  So slave labor wasn’t free.  It was a capital cost.  Let’s explain this by comparing leasing and owning.  Businesses can buy buildings.  Or lease them.  If they buy them they own them.  And are responsible for them.  They add a large asset on their balance sheet that they depreciate.  And add new debt that they must service (making premium and/or interest payments).  They also must pay expenses like taxes, insurance, maintenance, supplies, utilities, etc.  Things owners are responsible for.  When they lease a building, though, they don’t add an asset to depreciate.  And they don’t pay any expenses other than a lease payment.  The owner, the lessor, pays all other expenses.  When you lease you pay only for what you use.  When you buy you pay for what you use now.  And what you will use for years to come.  We can make a similar comparison between paid-labor and slave-labor.

Paid vs Slave Labor 1 of 3

For this exercise let’s take a factory today with 125 employees.  We’ll look at the costs of these laborers as paid-laborers versus slave-laborers.  We assume that the total labor cost for everything but health care/insurance is $65,000 per paid-laborer.  And an annual health care expense of $5,000.  Bringing the total annual labor and health care/insurance costs for 125 paid-laborers to $8,750,000.  For the slave laborers we assume 47 working years (from age 18 to 65).  But we don’t multiple 47 years by $65,000.  Because if we buy this labor there are a lot of other costs that we must pay.  Slave traders understand this and discount this price by 50%.  Or $32,500 annually for 47 years.  Which comes to $1,527,500 per slave-laborer.  Bringing the annual total cost for all 125 slave-laborers to $4,062,500.  And, finally, because they own these laborers they don’t have to offer premium health insurance to attract and keep employees.  So we assume health care/insurance expense is only half of what it is for paid-laborers.

Slave-Labor Overhead included Food, Housing, Clothing and Interest on Debt that Financed Slave-Laborers

If we stop here we can see, though not free, slave-laborers are a bargain compared to paid-laborers.  But if they own these people they have to take care of these people.  They have to provide a place for them to live.  They have to feed them.  Clothe them.  As well as pay interest on the money they borrowed to buy them.  And the building to house them.  For if they are not fed and protected from the elements they may not be able to work.

Paid vs Slave Labor 2 of 3 R1

A slave-owner will try to keep these overhead costs as low as possible.  So they won’t be feeding them steaks.  They will feed them something inexpensive that has a high caloric content.  So a little of it can feed a lot of people.  In our exercise we assumed a $1.25 per meal, three meals daily, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.  For a total of $170,625 annually.  We assumed a $500,000 building to house 125 slave-laborers and their families.  The depreciation expense (over 40 years), taxes, insurance, supplies (soap, toilet paper, laundry detergent, etc.) and utilities come to $24,100 annually.  For clothing we assume a new pair of boots every 5 years.  And 7 inexpensive shirts, pants, tee shirts, underwear and socks each year.  Coming to $10,094 annually.

Then comes one of the largest expense.  The interest on the money borrowed to buy these slave-laborers.  Here we assume they own half of them free and clear.  Leaving $95,468,750 of debt on the book for these slave-laborers.  At a 4.25% annual interest rate the interest expense comes to $4,057,422.  We also assume half of the debt for the housing still on the books.  At a 4.25% annual interest rate the interest expense comes to $10,625.

George Washington was Greatly Bothered by the Contradiction of the Declaration of Independence and American Slavery

These overhead expenses bring the cost of slave-laborers nearly to the cost of paid-laborers.  Almost making it a wash.  With all the other expenses of owning slaves you’d think people would just assume to hire paid-laborers.  Pay them for their workday.  Their health insurance.  And nothing more.  Letting them go home after work to their home.  Where they can take care of their own families.  Provide their own food.  Housing.  And clothing.  Which they pay for out of their paycheck.  Of course, this wasn’t quite possible in the New World.  There weren’t enough Europeans living there to hire.  And the Native Americans in North, Central and South America were more interested in getting rid of these Europeans than working for them.  Which left only African slaves to exploit the natural resources of the New World.  But that slave-labor could grow very costly over time.  Because when you own people you own families.  Including children and elderly adults who can’t work.  By the time of our Founding this was often the case as some slave owners owned generations of slave families.

Paid vs Slave Labor 3 of 3 R1

In our exercise we assume an equal number of men and women working in the factory.  Assumed these men and women married.  And half of these couples had on average 3 young children.  We’ve also assumed the current working generation is a second generation.  So their surviving parents live with them.  We assumed half of all parents are surviving.  These children and the surviving parents cannot work.  But they still must eat.  And require medical attention.  Using the costs for the workers these non-workers add another $845,469 to the annual labor cost.  Brining the cost of the slave-laborers greater than the cost of the paid-laborers.

George Washington was very conscious of history.  Everything he said or did was with an eye to future generations.  And their history books.  One of the things that greatly bothered him was the contradiction of the Declaration of Independence declaring all men equal while the institution of slavery existed.  But to form a new nation they needed the southern states.  And they wouldn’t join without their slaves.  So they tabled the subject for 20 years.  Sure by then that the institution would resolve itself and go away.  Washington believed this because he had many generations of slaves on his plantation.  And desperately wanted to sell them and replace them with paid-laborers.  Because he was feeding so many slaves that they were eating his profits.  But people wanted to buy only those who could work.  Not the children.  Or the elderly.  Unable to break up these families he did what he thought was the honorable thing.  And kept using slaves.  To keep these families together.  Making less money than he could.  Because slave-labor was more costly than paid-labor.  Contrary to the common misconception.

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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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