On slavery

AMcGuinn has a nice post on slavery, in which he comes to conclusions very similar to my own:

The true argument for slavery is this: that those who are not able to support themselves are necessarily slaves, and abolition ultimately amounts to an exercise in creative linguistics.

. . .

Back to those conditions: ideally, all those capable of freedom would be free, and the incapable should be given the best chance of becoming both capable and free. But there needs to be some compromise here. The welfare state is geared to the capable but unfortunate, is grossly unsuitable for the most incapable, while at the same time dragging far too many of the marginally capable down into dependency. There seems ample room to improve on it with a system of humane serfdom under which a serf is subject to a lord who his responsible for his support and humane treatment.

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8 Responses to On slavery

  1. San Francisco says:

    That’s why we always hear that in times past, slaves mostly consisted of the infirm and disabled…

    …Except that they didn’t. Nobody wants incapable slaves. If someone can’t pay for his room and board through free labor, he’s unlikely to be able to be worth his keep as a slave.

    When slavery works, it’s generally because you have supplies of economically competent humanity available through military or economic predation.

  2. TGGP says:

    What was the period between abolition and FDR (or perhaps the Great Society, since the New Deal was tailored to appease white southern Democrats)? Just creative linguistics?

    I presented some data on the condition of slaves after abolition at UR a while back.

    • Foseti says:

      I was taught – in my very mainstream public school education – that “share-cropping” was just slavery by another name and that the Civil War didn’t really end until the 1960s.

      • Handle says:

        I can confirm that exact perspective as being taught at my own school and being emphasized by both teacher and textbook. I’m both eager and terrified to see how that has evolved over a generation when my children march through the system.

      • Joseph says:

        I remember in my community college History course, I was taught that “many say” the South de facto won and segregation was cited as evidence.

      • teageegeepea says:

        Sounds like your education fell victim to the fallacy of grey. There was certainly an attempt at restricting the mobility and labor options of freedman (it was criminal to steal workers from their current employer in places) and there have been estimates on the reduction wages to the oligopsonist cartel, but it still winds up being higher compensation than slavery.

  3. Gabe Ruth says:

    The Internet reactionary habit of using charged words while retaining plausible deniability regarding their actual intent is a VERY frustrating thing. But this schmuck takes the cake with the equivocation at the end.

  4. Handle says:

    The problem with discussing “Slavery” is that most everyone immediately imagines the context of the American South in the 1800’s and is immediately consumed by racial neuroses.

    Far better to consider a very different setting to consider the issue in the abstract. Say, Ancient Greece and Aristotle’s arguments in Politics Book 1, Part 5.

    But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?

    There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.

    And there are many kinds both of rulers and subjects … It is clear, then, that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these latter slavery is both expedient and right.

    Now, isn’t that intolerably outrageous? It’s kind of amazing Aristotle, who compared slaves to oxen and other tamed beasts of burden, doesn’t get the Carlyle treatment. But that’s my point – the context matters. Once the most renown and celebrated Historian of the English speaking world, his name is now barely recognized if at all by the vast majority of even “educated” people. But Aristotle gets a pass because he was talking about Greeks and too long ago for our hair-trigger conditioned associations to engage.

    Terminology also matters because of connotation. “Slavery” is provocative because it connotates “hateful exploitation” whereas “Dependent” or “Custodianship” creates the positive paternalistic feeling of a benevolent fiduciary guardian.

    What we are really talking about in terms of the government filling that particular role for someone is a “Crown Ward” – someone who is neither sufficiently competent, capable, nor mature enough to exercise the judgment required to thrive independently in their society. This are the classical criteria for “emancipation”, which is necessarily similar to those for “capacity of culpability” for criminal liability. Excepting the seriously physically disabled – the test is a mental one which excludes children, the insane, and the feeble-minded (in, for example, Atkins v. Virginia the execution of adults with IQ less than 70 was proscribed as unconstitutional).

    Here’s an open question – in our modern and complex contemporary society – what IQ is necessary to exercise the judgments needed to thrive independently? I think this number has been rising over time. It might have once been near 70, but it’s almost certainly higher now.

    The absolute minimum the Army or Marines will accept by regulation is 88 for the lowest skill work available in the military combined with heavy supervision. I think that’s probably close to the answer. The actual cutoff is about 10 points higher because the military can afford to be more selective since the recession, so almost all new recruits are “above average Americans”.

    The semi-shocking thing is that even 88 excludes the entire bottom third of the general population. In some countries it might be over half. I think a good metric or condition for the sustainability of something like Democracy is the fraction of the general population above it’s able-to-thrive-independently-in-this-particular-society IQ number. What do you think those time-series charts look like?

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