slavery-tmThe purpose of this entry and the following will be to view slavery from an economic / individual liberty perspective.  I will make three fundamental propositions in this first analysis:

1)  Self ownership is the most basic form of property.

2)  Slavery cannot exist without the State.

3)  Slavery is economically unfeasible.

These arguments are an extension of the revisionist history perspective that the “Civil War” (better described as the War of Northern Aggression, or the war for Southern Independence) was not about slavery at all, but about the centralization of federal government power.

In slavery, it is posited that a slave master has ownership of an individual, claiming him as property.  To begin this analysis, we must first put forth a clear definition of property.

The most basic form of property is self ownership.  Each individual has ownership of himself.  As a self-owner, the individual also owns his labor.

In the case of slavery, we have one individual claiming property ownership over another individual who has an absolute right to ownership of himself.   We have here a conflict.  If we are to resolve this conflict in ownership, the slave must either assert his freedom and flee or cede some of his rights.   The only way the slave owner can take ownership of the slave is through consent.  In this context, every slave consents to the slave owners claim.  The slave either consents to be a slave, or he is not made one.  It is true that his choice may be slavery or death, but that is still a choice.  There has always been the case of the individual who chose to fight to the death rather than submit to slavery.  As a self-owner, each individual has the right to defend himself, and he may choose to submit rather than defend his right.

By taking “ownership” of a slave, a slaveholder acquires the product of the slaves labor.  But this acquisition of labor is not cost-free.  The slave must be fed, sheltered, and cared for.

In the acquisition of the slave, the slave owner is attempting to gain full control over the labor if the slave.  However, it is not possible for him to acquire 100% of this labor at no cost.  Left alone as a free man, part of the slaves labor would be exchanged for the basic necessities in life:  Food, clothing, and shelter.  Insofar as a slave owner must provide these things, in whatever meager form, he is still assuming these costs.

As an owner of his labor, the slave controls his production.  There is no economic incentive for the slave to produce any more than is necessary to prevent violence against him.  Therefore, a slave will only produce the minimum amount necessary to escape discipline.  There are many documented cases of slaves initiating work slowdowns in the form of feigned illness, sabotage of the tooling used in production, and the like.

In this state of conflict between self-ownership and claimed ownership of one individual over another, there is one fundamental assumption:  The slave would prefer to have more choice regarding the product of his labor.  Ultimately, he would prefer to be free.  The cost of containment is a large burden on the slave owner, he must provide security to prevent the slaves escape.  And if the slave should escape the plantation, the cost increases exponentially in search and recovery.

This is where the State comes in.  As I’ve pointed out dozens of times in different contexts throughout this blog, politically connected individuals seek to socialize their losses and privatize their profits.  Large-scale slave owners were among the wealthiest and most politically connected individuals in that era.  They lobbied the State to socialize the cost of returning slaves to the plantation.  The State obliged through legislation incriminating anyone who would provide safe haven to an escaped slave, and used the resources acquired by theft in the form of taxation to recover them and return them to the plantation.  Those who were opposed to slavery funded the cost of recovery.  Without the State there to provide these “services” and protection from loss, the slave owner faces immense costs in attrition.  The slaves themselves faced a much larger barrier to escape, in that anyone who would provide them with a safe haven would be criminalized, and that no matter where they went, the long arm of the “law” was out to get them.  Remove these barriers, and the incentive to escape increases.

In a true free market economy, absent the force of the State, slave labor cannot compete with free market labor.  In the free market, companies are in competition for good workers.  This competition drives up the cost of labor, and the individual has an incentive to produce at his full capacity to improve his own state of well-being.

Now, let’s go back to the point that a slave owner cannot acquire 100% labor from a slave.  He must absorb the cost of food, clothing, and shelter – as well as medical costs incurred in keeping the slave productive.  If we were to assume that these costs amounted to 25% of the slaves output, and that the slave was only producing an additional 50% of his capability, then it could be stated that the slave himself consented to 75% ownership of his labor.  That makes him 75% a slave, 25% “free” in his own mind, as he’s restricting his output to only that which is necessary to prevent violence against him.

Again, if he consents that the product of 75% of his labor is owned by someone else, he is 75% a slave.

The astute reader may see where I intend to go with Part II of this post.  And it may make him a bit uncomfortable…

Slavery Part II