Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Jane's Blogosphere: blogtrack for Natalie Solent.


( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

The Old Comrades:

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Friday, February 03, 2006
The Battle Cry of Freedom. As promised, JEM takes the debate on this blog about the industrial revolution and slavery forward another step. He writes:

"ARC thinks my industrial revolution explanation for the demise of slavery is chronologically impossible.

"The short answer is that ARC's thesis is even more chronologically impossible than mine, as after the supposed medieval end to the practice, it was still there hundreds of years later for the industrial revolution to terminate. In any case, the distinction between slavery and serfdom is more in the name than the actuality, at least so far as the serf/slave is concerned. And serfdom/slavery never died away among our Medieval African, Middle-eastern and Slav neighbours in any case -- all of whom we did indeed have considerable contact with. Incidentally, in these days Europe was not roughly comparable but far behind China in technology. And China did not lack serfs/slaves either.

"But the clincher is that the reason for the demise of serfdom at least in western Europe is well-known: it was the black death. That was the event that at the time, led to such a drastic shortage of labour and hence increase in its value that it made the medieval feudal system, with its serf-cum-slave based economy, untenable. Yet another example of an unintentional father of moral events, if I may say so.

"The black death, and then the industrial revolution: twice now, slavery has been destroyed by accident. The first time it was locally, the second it was ultimately globally or almost so.

"ARC mentions capitalism. I did not until now. But that is an interesting path not yet followed here: the place of capitalism and socialism in this matter. Not for nothing did Hayek call his classic work on the dangers of socialism, "The Road to Serfdom". You see, I would add as another unconscious nail in the coffin of slavery, the development after the black death of the first modern banking system, leading to accumulation of vast private and corporate wealth and the emergence of capitalism as we know it, leading in turn to the triangular trade...

"Let 'Lorenzo the Magnificent' be the Battle Cry of Freedom!

"But I did mention economics. The point of both the black death and the industrial revolution is that they caused slavery to cease to be economically viable. It is of course wrong to imagine that slavery is some sort of free good to the slave owner, any more than running an animal farm is cost-free to the farmer. Slavery died away when the cost of owning and feeding and housing and controlling and working a slave became more expensive than employing a free man or using a machine.

"It was and is as simple as that. Morality, I'm afraid, had nothing to do with it. That was bolted onto an inevitable event by immoral(?) moralists, quick to see an opportunity to make a fast morality buck... no, that's not fair either. They were simply reflecting the reality of the world they lived in. Morality, in this context, had become a sort of fungible good. - JEM."