18 Dec 2017

An Argument About Corporate Consistency

Economics 24 Comments

Inspired by this Sumner post, I recently tweeted:

Someone chimed in to say I was an idiot, and that he could obviously reconcile those two propositions.

So I came back and said (paraphrasing), “OK, so if the government keeps cycling back and forth, first raising the corporate tax rate 5 percentages points then cutting it 5 points then raising it 5 points etc., you think prices will go to infinity and wages will go to zero?”

I haven’t checked back yet but I’m pretty sure there won’t be an apology waiting for me.

24 Responses to “An Argument About Corporate Consistency”

  1. Giovanni P says:

    I say analogies like that all the time and no one ever gets them. The only thing that keeps me sane is reading yours, otherwise I would just think I’m not getting anything right and everybody is right but me.

    • Anonymous says:

      No, Bob Murphy is keeping you insane, not sane. If you were sane, you wouldn’t be enjoying the writings of a pro-slavery, pro-war, pro-murder, pro-rape monster like him.

      • Josiah says:

        Why is Tom Woods leaving anonymous comments on Bob’s blog?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Have you ever apologized for glorifying slavery-causing head taxes by claiming that they are “much more efficient” “in terms of standard economic growth” compared to other types of taxation, or for writing pages and pages of pro-war propaganda on Institute for Energy Research in support of murderous corporations like Shell while dishonestly calling yourself a pacifist, or for falsely claiming on Mises.ca that slave owners “couldn’t be too unreasonable, because frequent physical punishments would reduce the health of the slaves.”

    You are unworthy of apologies.

    Besides, different corporations will probably react to corporate tax cuts and raises differently depending on the situation.

  3. guest says:

    “… or for falsely claiming on Mises.ca that slave owners “couldn’t be too unreasonable, because frequent physical punishments would reduce the health of the slaves.”

    Even violent drug cartels understand that you can’t make profits by killing your customers. Which is why well-to-do cartels try to provide high quality drugs that don’t kill.

    Saw that on a drug documentary series. Forgot which one, though.

    • Anonymous says:

      Slaves are not customers. They have little if any choice, and often no choice, about what to buy. They cannot put their enslavers out of business simply by boycotting them and shopping elsewhere. Slaves are prey, and enslavers are predators who hunt their own species. In other words, enslavers are essentially cannibals.

      About 10 million Congolese died due to slavery under King Leopold II of Belgium alone.

      King Leopold did this to get rubber and ivory. The rubber went towards making things like bicycles and cars. The bicycles and cars were not sold to the Congolese. They were sold to Americans and other firstworlders. Those were the customers, the Americans and other firstworlders; not the slaves.

      rubber and ivory worth millions were arriving in Europe, but the ships going back carried little besides weapons, manacles, and luxury goods for the bosses
      – Kevin Bales

      Even after King Leopold II when the Belgian government took over, depopulation continued to be an issue in the Congo, in large part because all the work the Congolese were being forced to do for the Belgians took away from time they would have spent farming so they could actually feed themselves. By forcing the Congolese to instead work in mines and cut palm fruit, the Belgians caused starvation. For further details see books by Jules Marchal.

      For that matter, enslavers’ customers are cannibals too, albeit unknowingly in many cases. As one freed slave said,

      They are eating my flesh.


      To go over the context of that statement, watch the video from 14:43 to 21:25. The freed slaves said they were not paid (“He took us there and never paid us a penny” @ 17:39, “None of us has ever been paid” @ 20:05), that they were beaten viciously (“When you’re beaten your clothes are taken off, and your hands tied. You’re thrown on the floor, and then beaten, beaten really viciously.” @ 18:13), not allowed to leave (“He said that if anyone escaped he would be caught and killed” @ 17:43, “We were all terrified of him, no one dared escape.” @ 17:57, “If you ran away he would catch you, tie you up, beat you, then lock you in a hut” @ 17:59), someone seems to have been killed (“When he beat someone to the point that he couldn’t move, he took him out of the plantation. He took the person away. We never saw that person again.” @ 19:44), and that they had never eaten chocolate (“We have never eaten chocolate” @ 20:48).

      So the customers here are not the slaves, who do not eat chocolate. The customers are firstworlders who can actually afford chocolate. Additionally, since the slaves are not being paid, they can’t afford to buy anything else either. Since they were not allowed to leave, they would not be able to shop around much even if they had received payment. However, they were viciously beaten. They were treated as prey, not as customers.

      This is how capitalism makes the poor poorer and the rich richer. The poor are enslaved, robbed, and generally brutalized, so that rich cannibals can have chocolate and other luxury products that are far cheaper and more plentiful than if they had been made voluntarily.

      • Anonymous says:

        In addition to the Congo, slavery in Brazil also had a very high death rate. Note: the following quotation does not appear to be from an abolitionist. He appears to have simply believed that Brazilian slavery was excessively brutal. We are citing him as a witness, not for his philosophy.

        If idleness is harmful, the abuse of labor is even more so. We are so convinced of the truth of this principle that we do not hesitate to affirm that a third of the slaves in Brazil die as a result of the excessive labor that they are forced to endure… When I asked a planter why the death rate among his slaves was so exaggerated, and pointed out that this obviously did him great harm, he quickly replied that, on the contrary, it brought him no injury at all, since when he purchases a slave it was with the purpose of using him for only a single year, after which very few could survive; but that nevertheless he made them work in such a way that he not only recovered the capital employed in their purchase, but also made a considerable profit! And besides, what does it matter if the life of a black man is destroyed by one year of unbearable toil if from this we derive the same advantages which we would have if he worked at a slower pace for a long period of time? This is how many people reason.

        The slaves, going off to work at five o’clock in the morning, exposed during the entire day to the effects of sun and rain, are vulnerable to the kinds of fevers which result from too much exposure to the sun. They also get violent headaches, mainly when the sun is at its zenith, and apoplexies, which also quite frequently occur at this time of the day. This we would particularly like to prevent, and therefore we strongly recommend that on very hot days slaves be allowed a little time to rest.

        It is customary to force the slaves to work for some hours at night. I have seen the terrible results of this…. After their daytime labors, it is only right that the evening be devoted to recuperating their lost strength. We therefore protest again the conduct of those persons who, denying their slaves their necessary rest, force them to perform evening work, which consists of digging trenches, leveling terraces, preparing coffee and sugar, etc. This evening work almost always causes illnesses of the kind that arise from suppressed perspiration.

        – David Gomes Jardim

      • Anonymous says:

        And millions of slaves died from the transatlantic slave trade itself, before even reaching the places the slave traders intended to sell them.

        Looking at all the scholarship on the subject, it looks like, at the very least, 35% of those enslaved in Africa died before they were ever put to work in America. On the other hand, at least 20% of them survived. Between these extreme possibilites (35-80%), the most likely mortality rate is 62%.

        In terms of absolute numbers, the lowest possible (and only barely possible at that) death toll we can put on the trans-Atlantic slave trade is 6 million. If we assume the absolute worst, a death toll as high as 60 million is at the very edge of possibility; however, the likeliest number of deaths would fall somewhere from 15 to 20 million.

        – Matthew White

      • Anonymous says:

        Enslaved prostitutes often end up getting HIV/AIDS. So do many free prostitutes, of course, but enslaved prostitutes do not get to choose the level of risk they would like to take. There are, of course, some cases that don’t quite fit the definition of slavery but are not free from violence either, but it is clear that enslavers are willing to take risks with other people’s bodies that they would not take with their own.

        Not surprisingly, HIV/AIDS is epidemic in enslaved prostitutes. Thailand has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world. Officially, the government admits to 800,000 cases, but health workers insist there are at least twice that many. From 1997, a campaign to reduce HIV infection had a significant effect. While the target was 100 percent condom use for commercial sex, the reality was a reduced but steady cross-transmission between men and prostitutes. The epidemic has passed beyond the high-risk groups of sex workers and drug users, who now have infection rates as high as 50 percent in some areas. The group with the greatest increase in HIV infection today is wives exposed through their husbands’ visits to prostitutes. In some rural villages where the trafficking of girls has been a regular feature, the infection rate is over 20 percent. Recent research suggests that the younger the girl, the more susceptible she is to HIV due to the lack of development of the protective vaginal mucous membrane. In spite of the distribution of condoms by the government, some brothels do not require their use. Many young girls understand little about HIV and how it is contracted. Some feel that using condoms is too painful when they have to service ten to fifteen men a night. In fact, the abrasion of the vagina brought on by repeated sex with condoms can increase the chances of HIV infection when unprotected sex next occurs. Even in brothels where condoms are sold or required, girls cannot always force men to use them. Most northern villages house young girls and women who have come home from the brothels to die of AIDS. There they are sometimes shunned and sometimes hounded out of the village. There are a few rehabilitation centers run by charities and the government that work with ex-prostitutes and women who are HIV-positive, but they can take only a tiny fraction of those in need.

        – Kevin Bales

        • Anonymous says:

          In Thailand, enslaved prostitutes are often held as debt slaves. However, it must be stressed that this debt is involuntary. The are sold to the brothels, and told that they must pay off their price, plus interest. They are also charged rent. Just because they are paying for these things does not make them customers. Customers have the option to choose not to buy something. These slaves do not have the option to walk out of the brothel and stop paying rent.


      • Anonymous says:

        The convict leasing system, a form of slavery that arose in the United States after the Civil War, was also marked by very high levels of brutality.

        “Before the war, we owned the negroes,” the lessee reflected nostagically. “If a man had a good negro, he could afford to keep him. … But these convicts, we don’t own ’em. One dies, get another.” One dies, get another: no apothegm could better capture the distinctive feature of convict leasing, the origins of its brutality, or, for that matter, the most salient difference between it and [the previous version of] slavery..

        – Matthew J. Mancini

        • Richard Moss says:

          The quote seems to support Dr. Murphy’s contention on Mises.ca.

          • Anonymous says:

            “One dies, get another” is an example of slaveholders not being “too unreasonable, because frequent physical punishments would reduce the health of the slaves”???????

            Do you think that it is reasonable to work slaves to death so long as they are cheap to replace?????

          • Anonymous says:

            While slaveholders do usually try to keep slaves alive long enough to earn enough profit off them to buy or capture new slaves, in practice that often isn’t very long when slaves are very cheap and/or if profit margins are very high for some other reason. When a slaveholder controls a large population of slaves, they often have little concern for those who are too sick, disabled, elderly, or too young to do much work.

            Even when slaves aren’t worked to death rapidly or killed outright, they are still very often tortured in some way. Pre-Civil War slavery in the United States is considered unusual in that the slave population was sustainable from reproduction, even without the importation of new slaves. However, the amount of torture was still extreme on many plantations.

            The following discusses pre-Civil War slavery in the United States.

            Thus enslavers extracted a massive rise in cotton productivity from the 1790s to 1860. While planter-entrepreneurs did not publish their method for making cotton-picking as efficient as possible in a textbook or an agricultural journal, they created practices, attitudes, and material goods—whips, slates, pens, paper, and the cotton plant itself—that made up the method’s interlocking cogs. White overseers also played an important role, and not just as the ones who often put this system of violent labor rationalization into hour-by-hour practice. They probably invented many of the practices of accounting and torture as they carried their slates and bullwhips ever west and south. Eager to impress their employers, associating with each other, they, too, shared ideas and pushed their peers to conform to an ideal of absolute control over their captives through a commitment to violence. But whoever created the pushing system and the dynamically increasing picking quotas, they were crucial to what one overseer called this “great revolution in the commerce and manufactures of nations,” the continuous increase in cotton productivity that shaped the nineteenth-century transformation of the world.

            In 1861, the basic mechanics of arms, backs, and fingers remained as they had been in 1805, when Charles Ball came to Congaree. They were unchanged from the time when human beings invented agriculture. Nor could enslaved people imagine, when they were confronted by ridiculously high quotas, how they would pay their debt from their hands and not their skin. Often, their first solution was to try to fool the weight and cheat the whip. They hid rocks, dirt, and pumpkins in their baskets in order to make them heavier. Sometimes it worked. Israel Campbell hid watermelons in his baskets to cover the ten pounds he could never quite make. He got away with it for a year. Another method took teamwork: distracting the overseer as he manned the scale, taking advantage of the darkness outside the circle of his lamp to swap a heavy basket for a light one. “Such tricks as these will be continually practiced upon an overseer who is careless or ‘soft,’” wrote one planter.

            Overseers, however, were selected for their “hardness.” If they caught enslaved people trying to short the scales on their daily cotton debt, the punishment was severe. Surveillance and physical intimidation in the fields also made it difficult for pickers to cheat the scale by loading in field rocks, or to run away before weighing time. Sometimes, fast workers tried to help slower ones by putting cotton in their baskets, or taking their rows for a while. But enslavers usually made rules against cooperation, and enforced them. Instead, as minimums increased for all over time, entrepreneurs and exploiters forced individual enslaved people to marshal the forces of their own creativity against their own long-term health and independence, and even against each other. So, fearing punishment or even death, minds scrambled to come up with ways to speed hands. And the dramatic increase over time in the quantity picked reveals that somehow they succeeded.

            But how? Look at enslavers’ language. It assumed that some human beings could be reduced to appendages of others. Yet it also mirrored the words that formerly enslaved people used to describe the experience of picking cotton. For they remembered that to pick quickly enough to turn cotton entrepreneurs’ calculations about profit into reality, one had to disembody oneself. Picking all day long until late at night, even by candlelight, they had to dissociate their minds from pain that racked stooping backs; from blood running down pricked fingertips; from hands that gnarled into claws over a few short years; from thirst, hunger, blurred vision, and anxiety about the whip behind and before them. One had to separate mind from hand—to become, for a time, little more than a hand. Or two hands, like novice picker Solomon Northup’s neighbor Patsey. While Northup lurched down his row, “the long cumbersome sack” making “havoc with [cotton] branches,” and groping single cotton bolls with both hands, Patsey worked both sides of her row in perpetual motion, right and left. She reached with one hand and dropped cotton in the bag hanging from her neck with the other, “lightning-quick motion was in her fingers as no other fingers possessed,” Northup later wrote. She moved like a dancer in an unconscious rhythm, though of displacement rather than of pleasure.

            Patsey’s hands—both of them, right and left—each did their own thinking, like those of a pianist. For most of the laborers, however, the left hand was a problem. Symmetry can be beautiful to witness. In tests, people seem consistently attracted to more symmetrical faces and bodies. But in fact human beings are in crucial ways asymmetrical. Nine out of ten of us prefer to use the right hand for most tasks. Virtually all of us prefer one hand over another. And we know now that the left side of the brain controls the right hand, and vice versa. The left side of the brain is more heavily involved in analytical, detailed, specific processes and thoughts. These include language, and they also include skilled work with the hands. The right is more responsible for “global” processes, such as general perceptions of the world. Many believe it to be more artistic, more emotional. Of course, the reality is slightly more complex than a simple right/left spatial separation inside the brain. Nor is the nature of asymmetry always the same: in some left-handers, language faculties are primarily based in the right side of the brain, rather than the left. But either way, different sections of the brain play specific and distinct roles, and specific parts of the brain are linked in different ways to our dominant and nondominant hands. Right and left hand, right and left brain are neither equal nor interchangeable. Our hands are crucial elements of how we are wired to the world and the brain and the mind and the self.

            Our strong hand, whether we are right- or left-handed, is the dexterous partner of our conscious, planning mind. We write, we touch, we gesture, we take more with one hand than the other. And we also work with one hand more than the other, and that hand links our work to the mind and the self, making them all one whole identity. In the skilled tasks that Charles Ball did back in Maryland, the right hand always led his body. Like a woodcarver or a blacksmith, a man like Charles Ball often identified himself with the day’s work he could do with an axe (led by one hand) or the scythe (ditto.) So would a cook, or a housemaid. She, or he, was more than that work. But in skilled labor in which one hand was the leader, the mind at work could sometimes express the self with mastery and joy—even if the work was forced and the product stolen.

            On the cotton frontier, however, quotas kept rising. Now, there are switch-hitters in baseball, piano and guitar players with equally (though differently) skilled left and right hands. There are those who as a trick or because of an injury have learned to write with each hand. But these are specific skills, learned for the purpose of distinguishing and expressing the self. In reality, almost no one is truly ambidextrous. Enslaved people were only able to pick the required amount of cotton by learning how to unhook their nondominant hand from the tethers of bodily asymmetry and brain architecture that they had developed over the course of a lifetime. For eventually, only by using two hands that operated independently and simultaneously could they meet the rising quotas.

            “Some hands can’t get the sleight of it,” said one white man, who had tried to whip a young woman to “make her a hand at cotton-picking.” Enslavers and their victims sometimes described the skill of working with two hands that operated independently, with neither one dominant, as the “sleight” of picking cotton. The word means craft, cunning, the special knack or trick of something done too quickly for the eye to see. There is something left-handed about the word, something that is distinct from right-handed force. We think of sleight of hand as something employed by pickpockets, magicians, three-card monte dealers. But this sleight was different: extracted by power, it exposed and commodified hidden, individual skills. In the case of those who, like Patsey, developed the sleight of picking, what they achieved was not a mobilization of left-handed tricks to undermine right-handed power and entertain audiences, but a kind of detachment from their own consciousness. Patsey was beautiful as she moved, a sense that drips out of Northup’s description of her performance between the rows. Yet her achievement was also a thing of horror; she was a person forced to toil in a hot field, but she was also one of the “hands” sketched in words written on paper by men sitting in cool, dark offices.

            Picking one cotton plant clean was much lighter work in terms of weight lifted or aerobic energy expended than cutting down a tree. Yet picking cotton was at the same time much harder labor than anything else enslaved people had to do. Here, for instance, is the rest of the story of the woman who didn’t “get the sleight of it”: “I whipped her, and if I did it once I did it five hundred times, but I found she could not; so I put her to carrying rails with the men. After a few days I found her shoulders were so raw that every rail was bloody as she laid it down. I asked her if she would not rather pick cotton than carry rails. ‘No,’ said she, ‘I don’t get whipped now.’” Repetitiveness, and above all the demand that one become a different person—or not even a whole person, but a hand, and the wrong hand at that—these things made cotton-picking horrible. People remembered it as “irksome” and “fatiguing.” “I was never thoroughly reconciled to it,” they said, for it never felt like their own work or their own body.

            – Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told

            • Anonymous says:

              To alienate one’s hands and rewire them for someone else was torment. Enslaved people, however, discovered how to do it. They had no choice. So they watched and talked to others, learning from their speed. They created, on their own, new efficiencies that shortened the path from plant to sack and back in space and time. And above all, they shut down pathways in the brain so that the body could dance like a Patsey, could become for a time the disembodied “hand” of enslavers’ fantastic language. The whole effort left permanent scars. Years after she learned to pick cotton in Alabama in the 1850s, an elderly woman named Adeline still couldn’t stand to watch clerks weighing the meat she bought at the grocery store: “Cause I remembers so well that each day that the slaves was given a certain number of pounds to pick. When weighing up time come and you didn’t have the number of pounds set aside, you may be sure that you was going to be whipped.”

              The threat of torture drove enslaved people to inflict this creation and destruction on themselves. Torture walked right behind them. But neither their contemporaries then nor historians since have used “torture” to describe the violence applied by enslavers. Some historians have called lashings “discipline,” the term offered by slavery’s lawgivers and the laws they wrote, which pretended that masters who whipped were calmly administering “punishment” to “correct” lazy subordinates’ reluctance to work. Even white abolitionist critics of slavery and their heirs among the ranks of historians were reluctant to say that it was torture to beat a bound victim with a weapon until the victim bled profusely, did what was wanted, or both. Perhaps one unspoken reason why many have been so reluctant to apply the term “torture” to slavery is that even though they denied slavery’s economic dynamism, they knew that slavery on the cotton frontier made a lot of product. No one was willing, in other words, to admit that they lived in an economy whose bottom gear was torture.

              Yet we should call torture by its name. Historians of torture have defined the term as extreme torment that is part of a judicial or inquisitorial process. The key feature that distinguishes it from mere sadistic behavior is supposedly that torture aims to extract “truth.” But the scale and slate and lash did, in fact, continually extract a truth: the maximum poundage that a man, woman, or child could pick. Once the victim surrendered that fact—opened up his or her left hand and revealed it, as it were—the torturer then challenged the enslaved person’s reason once again, to force the creation of an even greater capacity to pick.

              Enslavers used torture to exert continuous pressure on all hands to find ways to split the self and become disembodied as a left hand at work. This was why many planters and overseers whipped even—or perhaps especially—their fastest pickers. In 1840–1841, Bennett Barrow, owner of a slave labor camp in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, kept a journal that he called his “Record of Punishment.” In this ledger, which records both whipping and picking, Barrow revealed how he calibrated torture. Three-quarters of the 1840–1841 instances of torture were directed at those who did not meet their weight. Sometimes he focused on those who failed to meet a relatively low quota, as he did on the October day when he directed a “whipping frollick.” He “whiped 8 or 10 for weight to day—those that pick least weights.” But he actually beat the most productive cotton pickers more frequently than he did the least productive ones. He tortured his fastest male picker twice, and his three fastest women nine times between them, just as Edwin Epps beat Solomon Northup’s friend Patsey until “her back bore the scars of a thousand stripes.” This was how clever entrepreneurs extorted new efficiencies that they themselves could not imagine. They pressed their most skillful hands and contriving minds ever harder.

              Using torture, slavery’s entrepreneurs extracted an amount of innovation virtually equal in numerical measure to all the mechanical ingenuity in all the textile mills in the Western world. The enslavers’ choice was a rational one, if that which increases profitability and productivity is by definition rational. On the cotton frontier, Charles Ball said, torture was “practised with . . . order, regularity, and system” designed to convert “insufficient” production into sufficient production—sufficient, that is, until the next day, when it would be repeated. Henry Bibb’s owner said “that he was no better pleased than when he could hear . . . the sound of the driver’s lash among the toiling slaves,” for then he knew that his system was working.

              Of course, not all of the benefits of torture for profit appeared in black and red ink. Some enslavers beat captives who lied, and then again, as one formerly enslaved person said, “when you tell them the truth, they whip you to make [you] lie.” They beat captives who resisted. They beat those who did not. Enslavers beat the enslaved to assuage jealousy—yes, jealousy of a field hand who had to pick three hundred pounds a day. Edwin Epps envied the narrow transcendence of his power that Patsey’s unconscious grace in the field revealed. Beyond the body he raped, the womb whose children he could sell, the back he flayed, there was part of her that danced, and he hated it. Meanwhile, “Captain Davis,” the father of James Fisher’s Alabama owner, carried a whip he named “The Negro Ruler.” Making it a point to “conquer or kill every one he undertook to flog,” he beat one man until brain damage prevented the victim from walking. He was eager to beat Fisher, too, but James managed to run away before the white woman consented to let her father do so.

              For many southwestern whites, whipping was a gateway form of violence that led to bizarrely creative levels of sadism. In the sources that document the expansion of cotton production, you can find at one point or another almost every product sold in New Orleans stores converted into an instrument of torture: carpenters’ tools, chains, cotton presses, hackles, handsaws, hoe handles, irons for branding livestock, nails, pokers, smoothing irons, singletrees, steelyards, tongs. Every modern method of torture was used at one time or another: sexual humiliation, mutilation, electric shocks, solitary confinement in “stress positions,” burning, even waterboarding. And descriptions of runaways posted by enslavers were festooned with descriptions of scars, burns, mutilations, brands, and wounds. Yet even slave owners’ more “irrational” forms of torture could have “rational” outcomes. As ex-slave Henry Gowens pointed out, wild assaults “cramp[ed] down [the] minds” of their targets (if they survived) and other witnesses, who now acted as much like hands as they could.

              We don’t usually see torture as a factor of production. Economics teachers don’t put it on the chalkboard as a variable in a graph (“T” stands for torture, one component of “S,” or supply). But here is something that may help reveal how crucial systematized torture was to the industrial revolution, and thus to the birth of the modern world. It’s a metaphor offered by a man named Henry Clay, after the architect of the “American system.” Born into slavery in the Carolinas, moved west as a boy, Clay recalled after slavery ended that his Louisiana owner had once possessed a machine which by his account made cotton cultivation and harvesting mechanical, rapid, and efficient. This contraption was “a big wooden wheel with a treadle to it, and when you tromp the treadle the big wheel go round. On that wheel was four or five leather straps with holes cut in them to make blisters, and you lay the negro down on his face on a bench and tie him to it.” When the operator pumped the treadle to turn the wheel, the straps thrashed the back of the man or woman tied to the bench into blistered, bloody jelly. According to Clay, the mere threat of this whipping-machine was enough to speed his own hands.

              The contraption may have actually existed. More likely, however, the whipping-machine was not a material thing of wood and leather but a telling tale. Clay was using a metaphorical argument to say that every cotton labor camp carved out of the southwestern woods used torture as its central technology. Every single day, calibrated pain, regular as a turning gear, challenged enslaved people to exceed the previous day’s gains in production. Planters and entrepreneurs rarely talked about how other human beings actually picked cotton, but they didn’t need to. They had only to deploy and tune the technology of the whip, steelyard, and slate in order to force people to focus their minds on inventing new ways to perform repetitive and mind-numbing labor at nearly impossible speed. Fingertips hardened, but also became more subtle and swift. Enslaved people developed different tricks, ways to get down the row with as little wasted movement as possible. Some of the new discoveries they could teach to each other, but ultimately one also had to split one’s own consciousness in half in order to generate unseen creativities of movement, new graces of speed.

              Thus torture compelled and then exposed left-handed capacities, subordinated them to the power of the enslaver, turned them against people themselves. And thus untold amounts of mental labor, unknown breakthroughs of human creativity, were the keys to an astonishing increase in cotton production that required no machinery—save the whipping-machine, of course. With it, enslavers looted the riches of black folk’s minds, stole days and months and years and lifetimes, turned sweat, blood, and flesh into gold. They forced people to behave in the fields as if they themselves were disembodied, mechanical hands that moved ever more swiftly over the cotton plant at the wave of the enslaver’s hand. Enslavers forced the sleight of the left hand to yield to the service of their own right-handed power.

              It was true that when entrepreneurs made plans, their desires sometimes ran away with them, and they counted on grandiose futures that might never come to pass. They looked at people with heads and arms and legs and could not “see anything but cotton bales,” ex-slaves said. Mississippi enslaver Daniel Jordan, for example, made the wild prediction in 1833 that he would get “ten bales to the hand,” speaking as if the people who picked his cotton were bizarrely disembodied “hands.” Yet some of these plans did come to pass. The whipping-machine that enslavers built in the southwestern slave labor camps enabled them to reshape the world along the lines of their own fanciful calculations of people into hands, hands into bales, bales into money, money into hands again. Hard forced labor multiplied US cotton production to 130 times its 1800 level by 1860. Slave labor camps were more efficient producers of revenue than free farms in the North. Planter-entrepreneurs conquered a subcontinent in a lifetime, created from nothing the most significant staple-commodity stream in the world economy. They became the richest class of white people in the United States, and perhaps the world.

              – Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told

    • Anonymous says:

      In addition to the Congo and the transatlantic slave trade, other instances where slavery has overlapped with genocide (or democide or whatever the correct term is) include the Armenian genocide of 1915, the Soviet, Nazis, and Khmer Rouge purges, and the Sudanese civil war in the last part of the twentieth century.

      When Bob Murphy writes that slave owners “couldn’t be too unreasonable, because frequent physical punishments would reduce the health of the slaves”, it makes him a holocaust denier, but he denies not just one holocaust, but many holocausts.

      • Richard Moss says:

        Okay, then I think based on what you quoted from Matthew J. Mancini he may also be a denier of many holocausts.

        Just to be safe maybe stop posting stuff from him.

    • Captain Picard's mimic says:

      Imprisonment is an injury regardless of how you justify it. Slavery itself is unreasonable, regardless of how you treat the slaves.

      • Anonymous says:

        Well, yes, that’s true, but Bob Murphy does not believe in freedom of movement, and apparently numerous examples of slaves being tortured, raped, killed, and worked to death are insufficient to convince him that people should have freedom of movement. He’s very pro-slavery, pro-rape, pro-genocide, etc.

        As argued most notably by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, individuals do not possess an inherent “freedom of movement.” If owners wish to restrict the people who travel on their roads, that is entirely their prerogative.

        – Bob Murphy

        Furthermore, based on the lie he told that slave holders ““couldn’t be too unreasonable, because frequent physical punishments would reduce the health of the slaves,” it seems Bob Murphy is willing to spread disinformation in order to promote holding people captive, so that they can be enslaved to feed his cannibalistic addiction to luxury products.

      • Richard Moss says:

        Where did Dr. Murphy justify slavery, or claim it was not unreasonable?

        • Anonymous says:

          In this article he claims that slaveholders can’t be too unreasonable.

          The precise quote is:

          In setting this threshold, the owners couldn’t be too unreasonable, because frequent physical punishments would reduce the health of the slaves.
          – Bob Murphy

          The argument Captain Picard’s mimic is making is that slave owners are by definition unreasonable, even if they don’t kill, torture, or rape their slaves, because the act of holding someone captive is itself an injury. He’s correct of course, but given that Bob Murphy does not seem to believe in freedom of movement….

          As argued most notably by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, individuals do not possess an inherent “freedom of movement.” If owners wish to restrict the people who travel on their roads, that is entirely their prerogative.

          – Bob Murphy

          Given that Bob Murphy does not seem to believe in freedom of movement, it seemed like a good idea to point out that when people are denied sufficient freedom of movement to run away from people who are torturing, raping, killing, or working them to death, they are very often tortured, raped, killed, or worked to death.

          The lack of freedom of movement is a key part of the definition of slavery. So saying that you don’t think people deserve at least sufficient freedom of movement to leave a situation they are unhappy with (for example, one where they are being tortured, raped, or might be killed soon) is tantamount to endorsing slavery.

          There’s certainly the question of sustenance, you normally feed your slaves, you normally house your slaves. But beyond that, normally, there is no pay for people in slavery. There could be tokenistic payments, which are given to people in slavery to encourage them to work harder. But the key is not about remuneration. Slavery has never been determined by the presence or absence of remuneration. It’s always been about the total control. And in some ways, when I’m in the field and I’m looking at people who may or may not be in slavery, my rule of thumb question is first, can they walk away, and can they walk away even into a worse situation? So if they can walk away and literally starve to death in a gutter, that’s harsh, but that’s not slavery. But if they are controlled to the point that they lack free will, they lack freedom of movement, then they are in slavery. And then you can begin to talk about the nature and the mechanism by which they are enslaved.

          – Kevin Bales, expert on contemporary slavery

        • Anonymous says:

          Furthermore, if you look at the article in which Bob Murphy argues that slavery would allegedly be abolished in an otherwise free market, this is what he quotes his hypothetical slave-freeing entrepreneur as saying.

          Further, if you don’t live up to my expectations, you won’t be punished; I will simply return you here.

          Working under threat of being forcibly sent back to a plantation where you will be whipped or beaten is not freedom, it is slavery. By attempting to redefine slavery as freedom, Bob Murphy shows that he is pro-slavery.

        • Captain Picard's mimic says:

          Way up at the top, Anonymous quoted Robert Murphy saying that slave owners “couldn’t be too unreasonable, because frequent physical punishments would reduce the health of the slaves.”

          Then guest replied by saying “Even violent drug cartels understand that you can’t make profits by killing your customers. Which is why well-to-do cartels try to provide high quality drugs that don’t kill.”

          So guest was equating reasonable with not killing.

          Then Anonymous gave examples of numerous slaves who have been killed by slavery, failing to challenge guest’s assumption that reasonable = not killing.

          I’m not disagreeing with Anonymous that there are many people who have died in slavery. But it is wrong to equate reasonable with not killing. Slavery itself is unreasonable.

  4. guest says:

    “… you think prices will go to infinity and wages will go to zero?”

    Mmm. I’m going to say yes – until prices go so high as to make alternatives more attractive to consumers.

    My answer is based on the idea expressed in the following article that taxes cannot be “passed on” to consumers, and that those businesses that are able to survive charging a higher price can only do so because the taxes have reduced supply by pricing out the competition:

    Papa John and “Passing On”

Leave a Reply