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Did capitalism helped end or prolong slavery in the US and elsewhere

  1. Sep 14, 2009 #1
    I really don't know if capitalism helped end slavery or prolonged it; On one hand, the invention of the cotton gin helped extinguished the need for slave laborers to picked cotton and the North was economically more prosperous than agricultural south. Err, perhaps this was this because most of the slaves were unskilled laborers and the labor force in the North had more skilled laborers ? On the other hand, up until the invention of the cotton gin, since the south economy was primarily an agricultural economy, could one say that the cotton industry benefitted from slavery. Slavery still exists today in the world but it is mainly concentrated in non-capitalistic nations, but then again, a portion of Wal-mart's work force , one might say work on "slave wages". What do you think? Do you think Capitalism helped end slavery in most of the world or do you think it has just transferred much of the slave labor work force into another part of the world?
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  3. Sep 14, 2009 #2


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    Capitalism certainly did nothing to end it here. The southern plantation owners were economically bound to it and it continued until the civil war. Most of the founding fathers owned slaves, even those in the northern states. I think the further north you went the fewer slaves there were.

    It was such a divisive issue that the founding fathers agreed to disagree and just ignored it. The hope was that it would die out of its own accord. But it was to important to the southern states economically and politically. Politically since a certain percentage of the slaves were counted toward the population for figuring the number of representatives.

    Capitalism did nothing to end slavery.
  4. Sep 14, 2009 #3

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    I'll take the contrary view. Slavery is an extremely old idea. It is at least as old as writing. Capitalism is a very recent idea, and when capitalism takes root slavery soon vanishes.

    What killed slavery was capitalism. Capitalism needs experienced workers who can be trusted to do their jobs, and do so willingly. Slavery is predicated on workers who cannot be trusted to do their jobs, that they will do anything to escape their jobs, and that they need to have the stuff whipped out of them as motivation for doing their jobs. Slavery and capitalism are antithetical to one another.

    Feudalism began to decline in western Europe precisely when the initial seeds for capitalism took root. Slavery persisted for quite some. Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations, was also the author of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith was the father of modern capitalism and was a very ardent abolitionist. Those two works are what led Britain to (belatedly) abolish slavery in the 1830s. How about the US? If the northern states had not seen the light, would the Civil War have ever taken place? Slavery persisted in the South because the South was stuck in a pre-capitalist mindset. The industrialist North needed workers they could trust. Slavery does not engender trust. Slavery looks absolutely disgusting in a capitalist mindset. There would have been no war between the states if the North had not become a bunch of greedy capitalists.
  5. Sep 14, 2009 #4
    I'm not certain that Capitalism ended slavery in the US. However, the Northern factories were very eager to attract cheap labor away from the South.
  6. Sep 14, 2009 #5


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    Hamilton set up our economic system during Washingtons first term, so capitalism was designed in from the start. The abolutionist accepted the existence of slavery because they recognized, even before 1800, that it would take a war to stop it. Early on there were secessionist plots in the NORTH wanting to seperate from the agarian southern slave owners. Note that in his will George Washington freed his slaves, Tom Jefferson and Arron Burr (a northern slave holder) did not. The Civil war was nearly inevitalbe, I don't think capitalism changed a thing. It is not clear to me why you think that the northern factories needing skilled workers had anything to do with the slave labor in the southern fields? All the factories need is a steady supply of raw materials, as long as the slaves provided the cotton the factory owners were perfectly happy. If it was pressures from capitalism which caused the end of slavery why did we have to fight a war. The founding fathers hoped that it would die over time, it did not.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2009
  7. Sep 14, 2009 #6
    You don't think the invent of the cotton gin helped abolished slavery the need for handpicked cotton laborers , since the cotton gin made the production of cotton much more efficient? Many southern plantation owners hired irish laborers to do dangerous life-threatening work because they saw their slaves as capital and therefore did not want to endangered their slaves, so hiring laborers eroded slavery a little bit. The economies of the south and the north were heading towards polar sides of the economic spectrum , i.e complemented each other , the north being more prosporous than the economy of the south resembling a feudal economy .
  8. Sep 15, 2009 #7
    I will be rude, and say that you're still a slave.

    You're only free to die in the streets. Otherwise you're just a slave to the system.
  9. Sep 15, 2009 #8
    Are you always so - upbeat?:uhh:
  10. Sep 15, 2009 #9


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    "Capitalism is a very recent idea, and when capitalism takes root slavery soon vanishes."

    This is complete nonsense.

    Wage labour systems (capitalism proper, in contrast to a) Slave-based systems, b) Feudal systems (land rent system), c) Various redistributive systems) are a component of ancient economies as well.

    Similarly with free market operations (well developed in ancient rome, for example)
  11. Sep 15, 2009 #10


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    Capitalism is not a very recent idea. In the 8th century it was present in the Islamic world along with slavery. This continued for centuries.
  12. Sep 15, 2009 #11
    This thread is quite amusing.

    Contrary to the assumptions implicit in the above discussion, slavery is not a thing of the past, it is still very much a pressing issue (despite being almost completely ignored by the media and governments). There are about 30 million slaves in the world at the moment (and note that this is a low estimate, the number may be - in fact, is likely to be - significantly higher), and the number is rapidly increasing. Slavery and human trafficking is considered to be the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.

    And it is being encouraged, rather than discouraged by capitalism, which forces companies to try to minimize the cost of labour, regardless of the social costs of this (but, of course, "there is no such thing as society", right?). There is structural pressure in capitalism towards greater income inequality and towards the impoverishment of those at the bottom of the chain (we in the first world are very much at the top). The way to prevent slavery is to uproot its social causes by providing access to potable water, land, schools and other social services, not to exacerbate them by neoliberal capitalism.
  13. Sep 15, 2009 #12
    Well I guess you're happy that Obama was elected?


    It appears he's trying to wrestle the economy away from the private sector and keep it solidly under Government control- no?
  14. Sep 15, 2009 #13


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    Giving trillions of dollars of taxpayer money for private corporations to do what they please with is considered "keeping it solidly under Government control"?
  15. Sep 15, 2009 #14
    Excuse me, who owns GM? What happened to the bondholders?
  16. Sep 15, 2009 #15


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    Slavery is still very much a modern-day issue. From the high-revilement issue of human sex trafficking (and yes, they definitely end up in the West--in my own city, they shut down an operation just last week which made the front page news, and headlines nationwide) to more 'old-school' agrarian and domestic servitude. In fact, you may very well be enjoying the literal fruits of slave labour:

    There was an interesting AP article (too bad they don't have bylines anymore--what's with that?) I read a while ago where some folks from Egypt (where slavery is illegal, but still persists) had brought along their personal (domestic) slave, and let her grow up. She then got freed, got adopted, went to school, and her masters got arrested. Unfortunately, as such things go, the story doesn't really end on a happy note:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/12/28/child-maid-trafficking-sp_n_153814.html [Broken]

    I'd read somewhere that slavery now is cheaper than at any point in history. Plantation slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries would be sold for the equivalent of U$40 or $50,000, but slaves today (location and 'skill-set' depending) are sold for as little as a few hundred dollars. An article I found through a quick Google search:

    EDIT: FTFA: Used to cost £40-50,000, and today they go for as little as $70!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  17. Sep 15, 2009 #16


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    You seem to be confused. The cotton gin had nothing to do with picking the cotton. A cotton gin removes the seeds from the cotton after it is picked. The slaves picked the cotton. It was much later that picking was mechanised. It seems that operating the gin was the dangerous job given to the Irish. Most of the southern plantation owners had to believe that the slaves were inferior and uneducable, therefore could not run machinery. They had to maintain that belief system in order to justify the abomination that was slavery.

    I am not saying that there were no economic influences contributing to the civil war. Clearly economics alone could not and did not end slavery. It existed hand in hand with capitalism for about 80yrs. It was not dying out, it was an institution that was not going to go away without force of arms.
  18. Sep 15, 2009 #17
    The cotton gin eliminated the need to separate cotton by hand, which was a very inefficient process for seperating cotton compared to having the cotton gin separate cotton from the cotton seeds. I was mistaken, it seemed that the inventor of the cotton gin hoped that his invention would in slavery. The slaveowners just didn't want the slaves to do the dangerous jobs because they thought they were inferior, the jobs were very life-threatening and they did not to endangered the lives of their slaves because they want to used their slaves for other dutities and slaves were seen as capital. Generally, people in the US had as much of a skewed viewed of irish culture as much as a skewed viewed of blacks. at least upon their arrival in the 1840's due to the potato famine.

    Do you think some of the policy makers all across Western europe were influence by Adam smith theory that free labor will make productivity of certain goods and certain inefficient and being very outspoken about imperial rule all around the world? If capitalism didn't have a very strong hand in eliminating slavery , what do you suppose is the explanation for why slavery is more likely to exist in countries that have uncapitalistic economies vs. countries that do have highly capitalistic economies?
  19. Sep 15, 2009 #18
    Well I never did say that capitalism completely ended slavery around the world. Only that slavery was eliminated in large portions of western europe and the united states where capitalism was practiced.. Slavery is certainly prominent in regions of the world where capitalism is not practices and almost non-existent in countries who's economies is highly capitalistic. I think capitalism has helped bridge the gap between the incomes of people coming from different economic backgrounds

    In Bernstein book, the capitalist manifesto,he writes that many people in London resided in impoverished conditions similar to the impoverished conditions quite common in third world countries today . It is always lamented that the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. Thats just not true. the economic conditions of people have improved greatly over time the course since capitalism inception
  20. Sep 15, 2009 #19
    On the contrary, many Third World countries are paragons of unresticted capitalism, much more so than most First World countries with their welfare states.

    Also slavery is not eliminated in Western Europe or the United States. There are tens to hundreds of thousands of slaves in the U.S. alone. I've seen various estimates between 50,000 and 200,000 (again, these being lower estimates).
    That's not true, get your facts straight. The income gap is widening both globally and in the Western countries.
    Yes. That was in the period of unfettered capitalism of the 19th century. Which rather demonstrates my point.

    The advances made since then have been due to restrictions placed on capitalism (such as the 8 hour working day).
    lol, it is a simple, objective fact that the income disparity is widening. Not even capitalist apologists deny that.
  21. Sep 15, 2009 #20
    Also, you're missing the point, which is that the global economy including First World economy relies on slave labour. It's irrelevant whether the slaves are actually in the U.S. or in India, the point is that capitalism systematically rewards people for pushing labour costs as low as possible, including the use of slave labour.
  22. Sep 15, 2009 #21


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    That's quite a claim. Could you provide a source for it, please?
  23. Sep 15, 2009 #22


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    I'm wondering if this thread is asking the wrong question. Slavery wasn't abolished/isn't illegal because it is a flawed economic theory, it was abolished/made illegal because it is morally wrong. So perhaps the better question is whether the morality inherrent in western democracy helped end slavery.
  24. Sep 15, 2009 #23

    Leaked CIA report says 50,000 sold into slavery in US every year
    an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 are enslaved in the agriculture, clothing, domestic and sex industries
    Free The Slaves estimates that between 150,000 and 200,000 people in the U.S. may be forced to labor in deplorable conditions for little or no pay in sweat shops, homes and restaurants, on farms, or as prostitutes.

    An informative video that is well-worth watching if you want an up-to-date introduction to this issue.

    You get varying figures if you Google around a bit, but as I said, generally they fall between 50,000 and 200,000 (but again, they only include the "known unknowns").
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  25. Sep 15, 2009 #24
    Well, most people where impoverished because of feudalism that existed for centuries throughout the middle ages and up until that period. It was feudalism , not capitalism , was the cause for the widespread poverty that was common among residents of London. Of course capitalism was not going to immediately rise the standard of living for london's residents. It was also during that period that many technological advances were made and wages of workers doubled between 1810-1850.(Jeffrey williamson, Did capitalism breed Inequality from Andrew Bernstein's book the capitalist manifesto.

    Really? Well nationmaster and I begged to differ regarding which nations practice capitalism which nations do not http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/eco_eco_fre-economy-economic-freedom; Highest on the list, Hong Kong, Ireland Luxemburg, Unitedstates; Lowest on the list, North Korea, Cuba, ethiopia and pretty much most of the third world countries.
    Well it is true that the poor are getting richer(in capitalist countries), whether you accept this fact or not.

    from http://www.heritage.org/Research/Welfare/bg1796.cfm; [Broken] Also , if you google it , you will find that the 1 percent wealthiest segment of the upper income bracket , 90 percent of them did not inherit their wealth, they earned it.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  26. Sep 15, 2009 #25
    Whether in absolute terms the living standards fell during the Industrial Revolution or not is a controversial issue, but it is an incontrovertible fact that hundreds of thousands of people, including children, had to work hard more for 12-16 hours a day just to be able to earn a subsistence wage. That has nothing to do with feudalism and everything to do with capitalism systematically rewarding those capitalists who managed to cut the labour costs down as low as possible. It was by restricting capitalism that we arrived at where we are today, where we don't have to work more than 8 hours a day and where children don't have to work.
    I don't know what "economic freedom" means, it appears to be some sort of politicized index, which without explanation is quite meaningless. The point is that Third World countries often have much less restrictions on free trade than Western countries and they have more lax labour laws, allowing capitalists the exploit the labour force more efficiently.
    Yes, but that's not what I said.
    I don't care, that's absolutely irrelevant. I don't believe in the circular myth of "if you earn it, you must have deserved it".
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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