Monday 17th of May 2021

woke and slavery


Adam Smith was somewhat ambiguous about slavery… He did not like it, not so much on a moral point of view but in economic relative sense. So a brave Kevin Donnelly goes on to bat against the woke movement that is trying to point the “sins” (I don’t believe in sin — mistakes) of the system devised by economists such as Smith.

It is essential to get history right and to stop interpreting the past through political correctness”… Says Donnelly. He is correct, but we all know (we all should) that history has been viewed through many lenses, often to the advantage of particular classes, especially kings, emperors and powerful families. 

Donnelly points out that the Islamic empire indulged in slavery, before we, in the West, got into it… This is debatable on the scale of the caper, as slavery features heavily in the bible — even the new testament (post Christ) advising the slaves to respect their masters. Serfdom in the middle ages was a kind of slavery and our record of slavery from the fourth century till say when the Islamic empire flourished, is scant — but this does not mean there was no slaves in the vegetating Dark Ages of Western civilisation.

By Barry R. Weingast at Stanford University:

Adam Smith made two positive claims about slavery in the context of developing economies. First, Smith explains that slavery is in general highly inefficient. By his account, the net product under freedom is 12 times larger than under slavery. Second, he observes that, despite its inefficiencies, slavery persists in most of the world. Taken together, these claims create a fundamental puzzle: Why do elites – owning slaves and holding political control – fail to make themselves better off by freeing their slaves? 

Smith gives two very different answers to this puzzle. The first is psychological. Smith asserts that people have a fundamental desire to dominate others, and slavery provided that opportunity for slaveholding elites. The first explanation is the most commonly advanced in the literature. Yet no where else does Smith use the assumption of domination. This explanation therefore seems ad hoc. 

I favor instead Smith’s second explanation. This argument, far less known, involves commitment problems. Freeing the slaves would deprive slaveholders of their property. How would they be compensated? In principle, a long-term compensation scheme could solve this problem. But in the undeveloped societies Smith discusses, such as feudal Europe, long-term contracts were difficult to enforce. Indeed, I show that both parties to the long-term compensation scheme had incentives to dishonor it. In the presence of commitment problems, masters could not be assured they would, in fact, be better off freeing their slaves. Slaveholders therefore rationally avoided emancipation despite its inefficiency

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But liberating the slaves can lead to having to bargain for the value of their bones (er — mean their work)… The solution?:
TRANSFER THE WORK that becomes too expensive to produce to SWEAT SHOPS (akin to slave work) in poor and developing countries. 

Smith was pessimistic about the future of abolition. He argued that slavery was both ubiquitous and inevitable: 

"Slavery takes place in all societies at their beginning, and proceeds from that tyranic disposition which may almost be said to be natural to mankind…It is indeed all-most impossible that is should ever be totally or generally abolished."

This has been the crux of the matter, between work and remuneration. We are at the mercy of the demand for our work, the supply of equivalent work by someone else and the price that employers are prepared to pay in order to maintain a superiority over the supplies. Thus for many, the capitalist economic system still create an underclass of badly paid poor people who in their own rights can feel like slaves. Hence the woke blaming the system devised by Adam Smith which is near enough the free "market of demand and supply”, in which competition can become savage like Tasmanian Devils fighting for a rotten piece of meat… instead of being an exchange. 

We can improve. The woke is of course pushing a point of view which is no more correct than the present trend of the status quo, but is important in order to redress inequalities… In regard to genderisation of the vernacular, some countries will have problems. Imagine “la table” (the table) in French… It’s a feminine word. To degenderise the caper, the French would have to invent a neutral article (“it”, “the" in English). Say “Ly” to replace Le and La… A big mess considering Spanish, German as well, would have each more than one million gender-allocated words… 

All’s good under ly sun…

But FREE JULIAN ASSANGE, please !!!!! His present status is worse than slavery! It's martyrdom!

See also: flying on our own...

what is inequality?...

We're all different. Inequality should be recognised when people (usually the poor) suffer while others (often the rich) profit from this sufferance.


More to come:



when the present garbage has fossilised...

When, in the future, social scientists undertake to study in depth the episode known as "the Covid crisis" that we are going through, they will not fail to underline the contrast between the scale of disorders of all kinds caused by the pandemic in the daily existence of populations and the absence of long-term prospects that these upheavals have inspired in our fellow citizens.

After months of serious disruption of all sectors of activity, both personal and collective, after thousands of deaths, bankruptcies and ruins, the observer can only be struck by, if not the absence of reactions from the social structure, at least the timidity and especially the inappropriateness of these reactions, those of populations manifestly incapable, not only of finding effective responses to the disaster but also of taking the exact measure or understanding its true significance.


What do we observe, in fact, by means of the most commonly available sensors? First, crowds disoriented and unhappy at being disturbed in their habits, whose recriminations, even when they are objectively justified, have as a common denominator the impatience of a return, as quickly as possible, to the order of the previous things, that is to say in a world where the bank account statement indicates the precise degree of freedom to which everyone, man or woman, young or old, can claim. The boldest go so far as to demand that we take the opportunity to improve salaries, pensions, careers, etc. But nothing but very reasonable, a simple catching up, at the limit, would do the trick ... The important thing is to restore without delay the normal course of the existential program of the "3 B" (Bâfrer-Bouger-Baiser [STUFF YOUR FACE, MOVE, FUCK] ), in more chosen terms, to find the level of growth and consumption and therefore the way of life that the Western world and the entire planet following it, have adopted at the instigation of the masters of Finance and their political and/or advertising servants.

As in every crisis, while we could hope that the severity of the damage caused and the brutality of the shock received by the system will lead to a questioning of the capitalist machine and its con-substantial obstinacy to run into the abyss, we see that everything is happening as if the "elites", just as much as the masses who leave the field open to them, were incapable of realizing what are the deep roots of the crisis and of imagining what remedies could be brought to it now. The alliance of economic-shareholder capital and cultural capital has literally sterilized the capacities of human invention in matters of social organization. We have even, in many respects, fallen, in terms of the analysis of today's problems, and the awareness necessary to organize resistance, to a level of lucidity and coherence much lower than that of the workers' movement at the end of the 19th century, which had succeeded at least in seriously frightening the western dominant classes. This amounts to saying that the industrial proletariat was ultimately, all things considered, less deeply alienated by capitalist exploitation than are today the different components of a middle class in a state of decomposition, which have more or less everything abdicated from the legacy of struggles.


Today our ruling class, whose various fractions are in competition with each other to impose everywhere the specific type of capital that they respectively hold, may consider that it has won the battle for domination over the whole of society, despite the persistence of some centers of opposition: integration into one of the fractions of the ruling class, through economic or cultural success, has become the supreme objective of family reproduction strategies, even if, more often than not, they are more opportunistic successes in "imitation", "on the cheap", than actual successes. And when we hear the liberal-social right agreeing with the social-democratic “left” in advocating a greater opening of the Schools of Power to a few handfuls of over-selected students from the working classes, as a remedy for confiscation of popular sovereignty through bourgeois democracy, we think we are dreaming and we measure the degree of blockage and tartuferie of the possessing and ruling class and of its customers.

Indeed, that was 1964 - already over half a century ago! - that Bourdieu and Passeron demonstrated, in a landmark study on students and culture, entitled The Heirs, that higher education and their most prestigious diplomas were almost the preserve of the bourgeoisie because these cultural assets were used for the name of the emancipation of peoples by the Enlightenment, to legitimize bourgeois domination over all of society. Fifty-seven years later, for the nth time, our leaders, President in mind, come to replay the same tune according to which by bringing a handful of suburban children into Science Po we would restore popular sovereignty, and the directors of Science Po, its students, and its journalists, competing in ignorance or in bad faith, to applaud without muffling, this dazzling proof of democracy, imported once again from the United States under the name of "discrimination positive ”(affirmative action). Fifty-seven years, and nothing has changed, neither under the right nor under the "left"! And on this issue, as on so many others, the masses joined their elites in the same systemic "cretinism", as Marx might have said.

Yes, in the capitalist market society, university titles, such as sports titles, or artistic distinctions, are not only, but are above all, strategic means of forcing entry into a dominant fraction, the essential mediation to "achieve". This one validates and facilitates all the others, remaining of course the enrichment - by all means - in financial capital, which ultimately weighs more heavily than all the rest. And it is this irreparably crooked, dishonorable and corrupt society that remains the Canaan that we proudly propose to reach out to our posterity.

Everyone agrees with this, even those who say nothing or pretend to believe that obstacles encountered along the way will be easily ironed out by appropriate reforms. The only truly appropriate reforms known to the wealthy and ruling bourgeoisie of today are those which can slow down the downward trend in the rate of profit of big capital, by pumping out even more the incomes of wage labor and the economy. laborious savings, by deindustrializing, relocating jobs, lowering wages, breaking public services, practicing social dumping, tax evasion and other economic frauds and social villainy. The ticklish petty bourgeois on the point of honor, who do not want to pass for accomplices of an iniquitous system, and who take refuge in the Center, the PS, the Greens, the CFDT, etc., if they want to maintain their own esteem and that of the little people who trust them, or who no longer believe in it, should publicly, expressly and sincerely dissociate themselves from this system, as some have already done , praised be they! It is time to clearly choose sides. Enough blah-blah, casuistry and politico-ideological contortions!

The Covid crisis, after and before other, perhaps more terrible, disasters reminds us that our social structure is economically, politically and morally ruined, undermined, worm-eaten, screwed up, to be redone from top to bottom ...


Sociologist, professor emeritus at the University of Bordeaux, close to the thought of Pierre Bourdieu, Alain Accardo notably participated alongside him in "La Misère du monde". A regular contributor to Le Monde Diplomatique and La Décroissance, he is notably the author of: "Le Petit-Bourgeois gentilhomme" and "Pour une socioanalyse du journalisme" [psychoanalysis of journalism], published by Agone editions

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Translation by Jules Letambour

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working for peanuts...


THE CURRENT BLIZZARD of stories about a “worker shortage” across the U.S. may seem as though it’s about this peculiar moment, as the pandemic fades. Restaurants in Washington, D.C., contend that they’re suffering from a staffing “crisis.” The hospitality industry in Massachusetts says it’s experiencing the same disaster. The governor of Montana plans to cancel coronavirus-related additional unemployment benefits funded by the federal government, and the cries of business owners are being heard in the White House.

In reality, though, this should be understood as the latest iteration of a question that’s plagued the owning class for centuries: How can they get everyone to do awful jobs for them for awful pay?

Employers’ anxiety about this can be measured by the fact that these stories have erupted when there currently is no shortage of workers. An actual shortage would result in wages rising at the bottom of the income distribution to such a degree that there was notable inflation. That’s not happening, at least not now. Instead, business owners seem to mean that they can’t find people who’ll work for what the owners want to pay them. This is a “shortage” in the same sense that there is a shortage of new Lamborghinis available for $1,000.


To understand what’s truly going on, it’s necessary to look back at how this question has been settled in different ways through the history of capitalism.

As Europe colonized the Western Hemisphere, the initial solution was simple: slavery. It began with the enslavement of Indigenous people from Canada to Cape Horn. This happened on a larger scale than is generally understood today, with one estimate finding that between 2 and 5.5 million Indigenous people were subject to slavery throughout the Americas.

Enslaving Indigenous populations did not go as well as Europeans hoped, however. If they were forced into bondage near where they’d previously lived, Indigenous people understood the land and could easily escape back to their tribe. (This problem was sometimes addressed by shipping them far away, often to the West Indies to work on extraordinarily brutal sugar plantations.) Britain and France, battling for supremacy in North America, were loath to alienate Indigenous people who might then ally with their rival. And Europeans and their diseases killed so many Indigenous people that often there simply weren’t enough around left to enslave.

This was the first worker shortage. It contributed to the expansion of the African slave trade, which, over 350 years, caused the kidnapping of approximately 12.5 million people, with perhaps 2 million dying on the way to the so-called New World.

But what were employers going to do when it was no longer possible to directly force people to labor? This was the subject of startlingly frank planning in British colonies after the passage of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

In 1836, Lord Glenelg, the British secretary of state for war and the colonies, sent a dispatch to all the governors of the West Indies. Formerly enslaved people were about to be fully emancipated after serving a required period of “apprenticeship” for their former masters. This, Glenelg wrote, was going to cause problems for plantations:


During slavery, labour could be compelled to go wherever it promised most profit to the employer. Under the new system it will go wherever it promises most profit to the labourer. If, therefore, we are to keep up the cultivation of the staple productions, we must make it in the immediate and apparent interest of the negro population to employ their labour in raising them. … Where there is land enough to yield an abundant subsistence to the whole population in return for slight labour, they will probably have no sufficient inducement to prefer the more toilsome existence of a regular labourer.


Obviously the answer couldn’t be paying laborers more. Instead, Glenelg explained, it would be necessary to prevent the former slaves from obtaining any land they could work themselves by fixing “such a price upon Crown lands as may place them out of reach of persons without capital.”

In a then-famous speech, a member of Parliament named William Molesworth said it as straightforwardly as possible: “The danger is, that the whole of the labouring population of the West Indies should, as soon as they become entirely free, refuse to work for wages … and that thus capitalists should be left without labourers.”

Several years later, the Scottish polemicist Thomas Carlyle jumped into the fray, in an article with the viciously racist title you might assume. With a few changes, the substance of its argument could appear in National Review today:


The West Indies, it appears, are short of labour. … Where a Black man, by working about half-an-hour a-day … can supply himself, aid of sun and soil, with as much pumpkin as will suffice, he is likely to be a little stiff to raise into hard work! … Sunk to the ears in pumpkin, imbibing saccharine juices, and much at ease in his creation, he can listen to the less fortunate white man’s “demand,” and take his own time in supplying it. Higher wages, massa; higher, for your cane crop cannot wait; — still higher, til no conceivable opulence of cane crop will cover such wages.


Glenelg’s recommendations were largely enacted. This, together with the importation of indentured servants from India, saved plantation owners from experiencing the feared worker shortage.

The same dynamics played out in various permutations as the Industrial Revolution developed. In the U.S., slavery formally ended but was mostly restituted as sharecropping for almost 100 years. At home, the British government passed a series of enclosure laws, which privatized “common” lands on which landless peasants had farmed. Now unable to survive in the countryside, these tenants moved to cities, where their desperation prevented new factories from experiencing a worker shortage.

Many European countries instituted unemployment insurance programs in the early 20th century over the ferocious objections of the business world, which opposed them for obvious reasons: They allowed workers to eke out a bare-minimum survival without jobs. This changed the power equation between employers and employees, forcing businesses to raise wages and improve working conditions.

Despite large-scale working-class agitation in America, the U.S. federal government, even more dominated by business than the governments of Europe, did not institute unemployment insurance for decades. In 1922, the National Association of Manufacturers made a straightforward pronouncement: “Unemployment insurance” — of any kind — “is economically unsound.” Later, an NAM representative informed Congress that its plan for unemployment insurance was unconstitutional and also wouldn’t work. The media of the time was as solicitous then as it is now of the perspective of employers. One supporter of unemployment insurance testified in congressional hearings during the Great Depression that the idea was enormously popular but lamented that even “with all this mass support, it is extremely difficult to get any mention of this in the public press.”

Unemployment insurance finally was created as part of the Social Security Act of 1935. With that battle lost, business turned to a two-fold strategy: first, lobbying to keep unemployment benefits at the lowest level possible, and second, preventing the unemployment rate from ever getting too low. It may seem counterintuitive that businesses would not want the economy operating at full capacity. But low unemployment alters the balance of power between owners and workers just as unemployment insurance does — and when workers can easily quit and get another job across the street, the dreaded worker shortage simply appears again in a different guise.

The battle against low unemployment was eventually cloaked in scientific jargon. In 1975, two economists announced the existence of the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment, or NAIRU. If unemployment fell below NAIRU, inflation would start rising uncontrollably as businesses were forced to pay workers more and more. At the time, NAIRU was purportedly 5.5 percent, while later estimates placed it somewhat higher. This meant that whenever unemployment was getting too low, the Federal Reserve had to step in and strangle the economy until lots of people were thrown out of work.

The problem with NAIRU was that, while there is presumably some level of unemployment so low that it will lead to inflation, the official estimates were clearly far too high. The unemployment rate dropped to 3.8 percent in 2000 and dipped to 3.5 percent at the start of 2020, with no accelerating inflation in sight.

Today, with the additional unemployment benefits from the recent Covid-19 relief bill, business owners are living their greatest nightmare: workers with genuine leverage over their wages and working conditions. The owner of a Florida seafood restaurant recently explained this straightforwardly: “You need to have incentives to get people to work, not to stay home. You’ve got the hard workers who want to have a job, but the others need that motivation.”

In theory, there are many possible such incentives: better pay, better working conditions, even a slice of ownership of the company. But the owning class hasn’t been interested in those incentives at any point in the last few centuries. There’s only one incentive that makes sense to them: You work or you starve.


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