Capitalism and Slavery

Reading Uncle Tom's Cabin has certainly given me a new perspective on a lot of issues dealing with slavery in the ante bellum South. The book is much more balanced than its critics, both North and South, give it credit. And, though often preachy, it's a lively read. One thing I encountered was a comparison by Mr. St. Clare between the conditions of the slaves in the South and the working classes in England.

     "...the American planter is 'only doing in another form, what the English aristocracy and capitalists are doing by the lower classes;' that is, I take it, appropriating them, body and bone, soul and spirit, to their use and convenience. He defends both, --and I think, at least, consistently. He says that there can be no high civilization without enslavement of the masses, either nominal or real. There must, he says, be a lower class, given up to physical toil and confined to an animal nature; and a higher one thereby acquires leisure and wealth for a more expanded intelligence and improvement, and becomes the directing soul of the lower. So he reasons, because, as I said, he is born an aristocrat;--so I don't believe, because I was born a democrat."
     "How in the world can the two things be compared?" said Miss Ophelia. "The English laborer is not sold, traded, parted from his family, whipped."
     "He is as much at the will of his employer as if he were sold to him. The slave-owner can whip his refractory slave to death, --the capitalist can starve him to death. As to family security, it is hard to say which is the worst,--to have one's children sold, or see them starve to death at home."


Of course thinking about capitalism always makes me want to retreat to that very sensible non-Capitalist, G.K. Chesterton. Whenever one criticizes Capitalism, one is accused of being a Communist. The only problem is that Communism is not different from Capitalism; they are merely feuding brothers. In Capitalism, the means of production are in the hands of the wealthy few (business owners), who employ the poor masses and use them to add to their own wealth. In Communism, the means of production are in the hands of the wealthy few (members of the government), who employ the poor masses and use them to add to their own wealth. Socialism is simply a nice middle ground between the two and therefore not different from either.
There is another option, however: a trade/guild-based economy a la the late Middle Ages, known variously today as Distributism, Distributivism, Agrarianism, Small-is-Beautiful, etc.

Chesterton summarizes the various economic options thusly:

I

The Collectivist State
Is a prig and a bandit.
I despise and I hate
The Collectivist State;
It may be My Fate,
But I'm damned if I'll stand it!
The Collectivist State
Is a prig and a bandit.

II

The Capitalist State
Is a garden of roses;
It's been proved in debate
--The Capitalist State--
But, strange to relate,
We are holding our noses,
The Capitalist State
Is a Garden of Roses.

III

The Communist State
Is all mixed up together.
Where we participate
--The Communist State--
There can be no hate--
(But we all hate the weather)
The Communist State
Is all mixed up together.

IV

The Syndical State
Raises awful emotion
In the Wise and the Great,
"The Syndical State".
What the words indicate
They haven't a notion.
The Syndical State
Raises awful emotion.

V

The Anarchist State
Is a flat contradiction.
So let Tolstoy narrate
The Anarchist State--
His powers, which were great,
Were more suited to fiction;
The Anarchist State
Is a flat contradiction.

VI

The Servile (ow!) State
Is like this, only worse,
Degradation's its fate--
The Servile (oo!) State
It's debased, desecrate
--And it don't care a curse--
The Servile (ugh!) State
Is like this, only worse.

VII

The Distributive State
You'd like if you'd met it
But you buy at a hard rate
The Distributive State.
It means Early and Late
--And don't you forget it--
The Distributive State
You'd like if you'd met it.

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