Saturday, March 03, 2007

Economising Freedom

Apart from the obvious good of emancipating people from evils and injustices; what have been the repercussions of emancipations?

Slavery in all its forms has had a certain evil logic which has locked in its victims and masters. No emancipation has come without a struggle.

The slave trade was abolished 200 years ago by Britain.

Through blood sweat and tears, slaves provided plentiful cheap labour in the capital rich colonies in the Americas, Africa and Asia; vertiginously growing enlightenment Europe's opulence and wealth.

What then was the logic behind the abolition of slavery? We would love to think that morality was a driving force, but in fact economics and power may have had a bigger influence. The British feared increasing slave revolts, which could have weakened its hold on its colonies altogether.

I don't have any idea on whether the abolition of slavery had any lasting adverse economic effects on British colonies, but tellingly, slavery (under different terms) lived on in other European colonies into the 20 century.

[Of course slavery survives today. Similarly, slaves are transported from capital poor countries to capital rich countries; but ironically because economic migration is illegal, desperate migrants voluntarily risk getting involved with trafficking gangs, and risk being caught up in sex slavery and other highly nefarious industries.]

Colonial independence movements, women's suffrage and African-American equality are all freedoms that had to be struggled for. Societies never grant rights and freedoms to oppressed people easily, because the oppression usually serves a important economic, political or social role within a society.

Freedom always comes with a cost.

14 comments:

spew-it-all said...

"I don't have any idea on whether the abolition of slavery had any lasting adverse economic effects on British colonies, but tellingly, slavery (under different terms) lived on in other European colonies into the 20 century"

I've read an article in an edited book about this. In the 19th C Europe, slavery was abolished in India but business people wanted them badly so they were employed as indentured workers and were sent to West Indies.

Did slavery give much profit to Briton's economic? I must say it would've caused her alot of trouble as maintaining the empire itself was already burdening.

Denica said...

you say that slavery is anobnoxious issue, and it

"[Of course slavery survives today. Similarly, slaves are transported from capital poor countries to capital rich countries; but ironically because economic migration is illegal, desperate migrants voluntarily risk getting involved with trafficking gangs, and risk being caught up in sex slavery and other highly nefarious industries.]"

come to think of it, in this globalization era, dont you think that their lives would be worsen off WITHOUT being the 'slaves', the sweatshop workers?

this is deep issue indeed.

johnorford said...

"I've read an article in an edited book about this. In the 19th C Europe, slavery was abolished in India but business people wanted them badly so they were employed as indentured workers and were sent to West Indies."

I've heard similar things about workers on Dutch plantations on Sumatra and Java.

johnorford said...

"come to think of it, in this globalization era, dont you think that their lives would be worsen off WITHOUT being the 'slaves', the sweatshop workers?"

Well, you have to draw a line between slaves and sweatshop workers.

Slaves have no personal freedom and have no choice but to work for their master.

Sweatshop workers do have personal freedom and do have a choice of whether they work for a particular employer. Obviously their choices are limited by the poverty of their society, but that is not their employer's fault.

In fact, I suspect that sweatshop employees /no/ worse off than their peers working on farms or hawkers on the street.

johnorford said...

You could contrast slaves to maids.

Maids in Indonesia earn little more than a dollar a day, right? (by global standards they are extremely poor)

But they can leave your household if they find a better household or if they are going to have a baby.

Many work well over 8 hours a day, many live in quite poor conditions. I imagine maids only get a handful of holidays a year when they can visit their families or whatnot.

(Also, imo, many maids jobs are quite comparable to sweatshop workers. Now imagine if Indonesians were forced to pay "respectable" wages to maids by Western charities -- many maids would be made unemployed overnight!!)

Contrast that to slaves. If a slave has a master that beats her up, rapes her? - she can't leave. Slaves have no holidays. And I imagine, because she is a slave, her master couldn't be prosecuted for the abuse.

[I have to admit though, that I am unsure of the historical legal ins and out of slavery]

So basically slaves have /no/ choice, that's the difference.

spew-it-all said...

Slave that you just described is hard to find in rich countries.

The term that anti-globalisation zealots often use is modern slave. The difference was clear. In the past, you could buy slave. But these days, you can't buy them but tie them up in a contract.

Dewi Susanti said...

Can you elaborate a little on the economical logic behind the abolition of slavery? The political logic and economical impact is rather obvious now that England still hold many other countries under its flag. But I’m wondering what would be the short and middle term impact from the economic point of view.

What do you think could be the economical and political logic and impact behind the abolition of borders? And how would you convince others in relation to the fact that British’ view towards abolition of slavery was an exception to the rule? Perhaps Ireland can be the driving force for this freedom of movement ;)

Denica said...

"Slaves have no personal freedom and have no choice but to work for their master."

do you honestly think that sweatshop workers in mexico like those working in levis production have indeed a personal freedom? they are being paid barely enough to live, deprived from their basic rights, a condition by which they cant do anything since it would made their already-unbearable lives worse?

"Obviously their choices are limited by the poverty of their society, but that is not their employer's fault."

not an employer's fault? who actually demanded them to work at such a low cost in order to make unthinkable profits in the first place? even without the employers, their lives would be worsen off since they have basically no other access to earn another living.

johnorford said...

"But these days, you can't buy them but tie them up in a contract."

i don't think you could.

try to get your maid to sign a contract which ties her to your family for 20 years and prescribes real bad work conditions etc.

after a few days she'd leave in a blink of an eye!

obviously some ppl are threatened with violence to stay, and that is slavery pure and simple (eg. the many maid abuse stories you hear about...).

johnorford said...

"Can you elaborate a little on the economical logic behind the abolition of slavery?"

Around the time of abolition there were successful slave revolts, and the ever practical Brits realised that they couldn't keep fighting their slaves into submission (that's at least part of the reason for abolition, am not expert, yet).

"But I’m wondering what would be the short and middle term impact from the economic point of view."

Well, I think the reason given above is also short and middle term - they faced a real risk of losing Jamaica for example, the French had already lost Haiti.

Also, as noted, the issue was somewhat fudged by "abolition". "Indentured" workers with zero rights (recall stories about the plantations of Sumatra) filled the economic gap (ie. not enough cheap labour and too much capital in the colonies). (Hell, blacks in America didn't get the vote until the 60s!! -- despite the American constitution.)

"What do you think could be the economical and political logic and impact behind the abolition of borders?"

I'll do a post about it, altho I reckon I could also do a PhD dissertation about it!! :)

"And how would you convince others in relation to the fact that British’ view towards abolition of slavery was an exception to the rule?"

Well, it took some decades but when Western use of slavery slipt out of fashion, economies didn't go belly up, in fact the industrial revolution got into gear.

When Western countries lost their colonies, they survived -- prospered in fact!!

I doubt increasing, or full freedom of movement would be an exception to the trend, in fact there are very many positive points to it.

Look at the most vibrant economies today -- they all historically take in masses of poor unskilled immigrants! (HK, New York, California)

johnorford said...

"deprived from their basic rights"

I don't agree with breaking the law, and I don't agree with regimes in Burma or N Korea for example, that use slavery.

"a condition by which they cant do anything since it would made their already-unbearable lives worse?"

That's the kernel of the issue.

If Nike feel charitable and employ people at double the going rate what will happen? 10k workers in Bandung get $140 per month? That's a drop in the ocean -- that doesn't do anything for the 40m people in Indonesia earning less than $30 per month.

indonesia is a cash desert, it's sad but employers are /not/ the problem.

"not an employer's fault?"

employers are the last ppl you should blame, they seem to be a dying breed over there in any case!

your govts over the last 50 years are better targets for ur ire!

Dewi Susanti said...

I would be careful about linking industrial revolution and the prosperous economic result as the repercussion of abolition of slavery. There were many more direct contributing factors to the industrial revolution that may or may not have something to do with abolition of slavery. Do you have concrete examples to link them?

Likewise with contributing vibrant economies of the cities you mentioned to the masses of poor unskilled labors. Indonesia has many of the latter. It hasn’t gotten us to the vibrant economies you mentioned :)

johnorford said...

dewi,

thx 4 the reply, you are right about linking the industrial revolution with the end of slavery. in fact it could have exacerbated slavery esp. in the congo and other rubber producing colonies in the late 18th and early 20th centuries.

will have to take time to consider your comment, really grateful for it.

john

johnorford said...

18th should be 19th obviously.