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The protester was heard to shout ‘this country was built on the blood of slaves’ as he threw the eggs

So was Rome. Athens. The Ashanti Kingdom. Dahomey. The Aztec culture – plus human sacrifice.

The near universality of slavery in the pre-machine age is the thing to note, not who were the people to finally abolish it. For when one does that one starts to ponder well, if everyone had slaves but only one place got rich then it’s not the slavery which caused the riches, is it?

24 thoughts on “And?”

  1. Question: would mechanisation have happened faster absent slavery?

    The industrial revolution happened here in England where there was no chattel slavery — yes, a black man introduced it to the colonies in North America (import the 3rd world…) — but not here in this sceptered isle. In previous empires, was purchasing slaves a more attractive deployment of capital compared to early mechanisation, and mechanisation only economically viable when there is a wage-based workforce? Of course, once mechanisation has been deployed and iterative improvements made, it becomes far more effective than buying and maintaining slaves, but for the early adopters building/buying the flaky and inefficient first generation of machines?

  2. Slaves were usually captured en masse as a booty of war and entered the market that way. So there weren’t really “factories” producing slaves in ancient times ( well the Helots in Sparta perhaps)
    Even in African slavery, the enslaved were usually victims of war, debtors, criminals etc. It is important to remember that they were also used in agriculture and food processing ( sugar). I am not sure that slavery and efficient mass production of goods go hand in hand.

    The other thing to remembet was that in the 18th Cent the British population at last recouped the losses of the Black Death and there was now a growing mass market for domestic goods with the customers also now employed in making them.

    ps I have to admit that I don’t know when slavery was effectively abolished in England ( the Saxons and Vikings kept them of course ) but it was established Common Law that slavery was impossible in the Home Isles and confirmed by court cases in the 18thC.

  3. Worth remembering that few of us would be here, but for slavery.
    Originally, if people had a dispute with neighbouring people, they just killed the lot. Genocide. They didn’t have the surplus resources to keep captives. It was the development of agriculture & realising your captives had utility that brings in slavery. Since we all no doubt have slaves somewhere in our past, be thankful.

  4. Oh & you wouldn’t have civilisation without slavery. It’s a necessary prerequisite. It’s the only way you can gain the surplus productivity to bootstrap up to a civilisation.

  5. It was the Normans who abolished slavery in England i.e. freed about 10% of the population.

    Did the Normans in Sicily do the same thing or the Normans in Ireland? Genuine question: i have no idea of the answer.

  6. Yeah but when ?

    Ivanhoe’s dad kept a slave and that was at the time of Richard I.
    ( Whaddya mean it was a made up story ?)

  7. I once read a book on classical Roman slavery by and American economist. (Can’t remember the title or author.) He concluded that slavery was a net economic loss to Rome. They would all have been richer with wages and fiat currency.
    It’s conceivable that some unpleasant labour intensive industries, such as cotton and sugar, work well with slaves. (Factor in the capital cost, housing and supervision…)
    Sharecropping, as in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia or post bellum USA, is the way to go.

  8. AFAIK most economists agree that slavery is economically inefficient. Perhaps we should demand a royalty for having (at great expense) abolished it. Same goes for the environmental “crime” of the Industrial Revolution.
    I wouldn’t push this idea too far though Timmy, in case they start demanding reparations for us having invented economists.

  9. AFAIK most economists agree that slavery is economically inefficient.
    Then most economists are wrong. And wouldn’t that be a surprise?
    It would depend on the economy in question. If some generous person gave me a slave today, it’d be far more economically efficient for me to use it to keep this house functioning at a cost of feeding & watering than it would to pay the going rate for domestic servants. It wouldn’t even be detrimental to the wider economy. Opportunity cost. What I’m not spending on a servant gets spent on goods & services in the wider economy.
    Th equation’s the costs of your slave & keeping your slave slaving against the marginal benefits of using voluntary paid labour.

  10. @bis
    As I mentioned, you have to factor in the cost of the overseer(s), sleeping with a gun under your pillow, etc. Sure, they’re not all Spartacus, but they’r not Roxana either.

  11. The Normans replaced slavery with serfdom. That’s pretty much a distinction without a difference. Serfs were still tied to their Lord and had no freedom to choose an employer until changes in the law following the Peasants’ Revolt. That was a direct consequence of the Black Death after which labour became a sellers’ market.

  12. BiS

    But what are you using the slave for ? Cooking, cleaning, scrubbing ( Sid James as Mark Anthony needed a good scrubber ), digging spuds, bumming ( Larry and Tony in spartacus )?

    Not making pins efficiently, that’s for sure. What were the production rates like in the Concentration Camps ?
    The only incentive for a slave to work harder is an extra carrot for tea or a good beating .

  13. Slavery depends on not having a place for the slave to run, i.e. it being an institution. The other option would be to keep the slave ignorant of other possibilities. The trafficking you hear about today has that – people who end up in a land where they don’t speak the language and can’t learn about their options.

    Serfdom was introduced in the Roman empire as a way to keep people from going to the cities and ending up on the dole. It also depends on the serfs not having other possibilities. When you’re either growing crops or being apprenticed (and paying for the privilege of learning) in a guild, these options don’t exist.

  14. @Ottokring
    Sure. One needs to be an efficient slave keeper. Something the slaveowners of the southern colonies of the US probably weren’t. They lost 20% of the cargo of the slave ships shipping them from Africa, for a start. The input’s people from a subsidence farming non-money economy. One doesn’t need to be much more efficient than that to provide slaves with a better standard of living than where they’ve come from & make a better profit from their labour because they’re working willingly. Never underestimate how poor the lives of so-called free people can be. We’re rich because we’re participating in an efficient economy.

  15. I think this country was built on the blood of the thousands of sailors, soldiers, and Marines of the East Africa Squadrons in attacking slave ships and freeing their cargoes. For some reason, this never seems to be mentioned in discussions on who started slavery, and which was the first civilised nation to ban it.

  16. We have a control group: all the developed countries which didn’t use slaves. Did Ireland or Finland have slavery? If not, then slavery is not a necessary precondition for development.

  17. Did Ireland or Finland have slavery?

    Among the plunder captured by the band of warriors dispatched by Ireland’s King Niall of the Nine Hostages was a 16-year-old boy named Succat. Although brought to Ireland against his will, the teenager would go on to become Ireland’s patron saint. St. Patrick may have been a foreigner who arrived in Ireland in the hold of a pagan king’s slave ship, but he would become synonymous with the island itself.

    Calls for reparations from the Micks in 3..2.. oh who am I kidding?

  18. Matt, I’d argue that machines, even today, are less flexible than humans. So civilisation had to be established first before it became practical to substitute machines for humans.

    I amused myself by thinking of the Rio Tinto mines, and whether Hero of Alexandria could have invented a Newcomen engine to pump them out. In theory I’d say yes. But it took Newcomen 14 years to develop, there’d been at least a century of experiments with steam power before then, the Romans would have had to make the thing out of expensive bronze.

    Of course if the timing had been right, Nero the Nerd would have backed him, and perhaps put the necessary money into developing cast iron.

  19. BiS , I was surprised as well….

    Then again, on another thread someone mentioned he was not Jewish* enough in certain parts of Brooklyn **, wheras I have always been under the impression that melanin content was a guide nowadays…

    ** amazingly enough I can point out areas in Brussels or Antwerp where this is the same.. And one wonders why said self-inflicted cultural xenophobic isolation gives rise to… Misunderstandings…..
    Not that it matters to those peeps… They’re perfectly happy to discriminate against me, while screaming their lungs out against any perceived slight against their stone-age malformed little identities..

  20. “That’s pretty much a distinction without a difference” Complete balls. Why do people keep making that sort of attempt to whitewash slavery? Cf “wage slave” and other crap.

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