recentpopularlog in

division

« earlier   
Twitter
Our Otters Year 1 class have been busy in this week learning how to share amounts () and then learn…
division  Maths  from twitter_favs
16 days ago by tolkien
How Slavery Shaped American Capitalism
"The problem is that the causal channels identified by Desmond don’t really explain the low road on which American capitalism undoubtedly runs. What do the monetary flows between the antebellum North and South, or the technologies developed on slave plantations, have to do with America’s low levels of social protection today? In the end Desmond’s argument comes down to the diffusion and persistence of what he calls (quoting Joshua Rothman) a “culture of speculation unique in its abandon.”

Leaving aside the question of how unique that culture actually was (the 1929 and 2007 financial crises that Desmond attributes to it were after all global crises), it remains a mystery how this culture persisted so long after the abolition of the institution which supposedly gave rise to it. Desmond’s language reflects the murky, even ghostly, character of that persistence: he points to “eerie” analogies between past and present; slavery is described in religious terms as a “national sin” that is “visited upon” later generations; and of course we get that most modern, and most American, of all metaphors for mysterious lineage: “slavery is necessarily imprinted on the DNA of American capitalism.”

But in truth there need be no mystery. For there are straightforward ways that slavery clearly influenced the development of American capitalism — ways that don’t require us to pad the numbers or believe in ghosts. The first and most obvious one is the legacy of anti-black racism that is powerfully described in other contributors to the 1619 Project. That legacy undoubtedly divided the American labor movement, weakened progressive political alliances, and undermined the provision of public goods (see for instance the excellent pieces by Kevin Kruse and Jeneen Interlandi in the same issue of the New York Times Magazine).

There is also a lesser-known but equally clear and durable influence of slavery evidenced in the work of legal and institutional historians that Desmond neglects, such as David Waldstreicher and Robin Einhorn. These historians point out that a major effect of slavery on US economic development came through its foundational influence on America’s legal and political institutions.

One of the central problems faced by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was how to create a common legal and political framework that would unite the slave states of the South with Northern states that were then in the process of abolishing slavery. The slave states were concerned that a strong federal government dominated by Northerners might tax their slaves or even abolish slavery.

The solution the delegates found was two-fold. On the one hand they ensured that the South was disproportionately represented at the federal level through the three-fifths clause. On the other hand, they reserved the bulk of fiscal and economic policymaking to the states themselves. Thus the constitution effectively restricted federal taxing and regulatory power to international and interstate commerce.

But even here slavery shaped the way that power would be used. Slave states were concerned about federal power to tax slave imports and slave-produced exports, but they also wanted the federal government to enforce their property claims when it came to fugitive slaves who might flee to the free states. The result was a restriction on the federal government’s taxing power (banning export taxes and limiting taxes on slave imports) and a strengthening of its power (vis a vis the states) to enforce property claims in the “fugitive slave clause.”

This division of federal and state power over slave property is not just manifest in now-dormant articles of the constitution dealing with slavery. It imbues all parts of the constitution and arguably lent to the American state system its distinctive form, which combines strong property protections with weak regulatory and fiscal powers (the introduction of a federal income tax in 1913 required a constitutional amendment).

Apologists for this system call it “competitive federalism.” The fugitive slave act and the commerce clause restricted the domestic power of the federal government — the most powerful entity in the state system — to protecting large merchants and enforcing property claims across state lines, i.e., ensuring the mobility of capital. Its powers to tax, spend, and interfere with the interests of the wealthy (e.g., through regulating banks or providing debt relief) were explicitly curtailed. Even the legal scholar Richard Epstein, a libertarian champion of competitive federalism, acknowledges that “it’s quite clear that the cause of limited government was advanced by the institution of slavery.”

In principle the states were left to regulate and tax as they liked, but their practical ability to do so was constrained by federally mandated capital mobility. This created a fiscal and regulatory race to the bottom, as the wealthy could force relatively weak state legislatures to compete for their investments — just as city and state governments prostrate themselves before Amazon and Boeing today. The infamous Dred Scott case was itself a matter of the federal judiciary protecting capital mobility (in that case the right of slave-owners to move through the territories with their slaves) and Robin Einhorn points out that the same principle was at work in later judicial interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment that allowed federal courts to strike down state-level labor regulations.

Einhorn’s point is not that the framers were all proslavery (they were not) nor that they intended to produce a capitalist paradise of unfettered accumulation. Her point is that in making certain concessions to the slave-owners the framers unintentionally generated those conditions. Slave-owners were particularly afraid of allowing democratic control over property because they were literally afraid of their property. They were haunted by the threat of slave insurrections, as well as foreign armies turning their slaves into enemy soldiers through offers of freedom (as the British had recently done). Einhorn concludes that “if property rights have enjoyed unusual sanctity in the United States, it may be because this nation was founded in a political situation in which the owners of one very significant form of property thought their holdings were insecure.”

The resulting balance of strong property protections and weak regulatory and taxing power may or may not have been conducive to economic growth (that’s for economic historians to figure out). But there is no doubt that it helped shift American capitalism onto the low road. In addition to the profound effect of slavery on America’s enduring racial inequality, slavery’s legacy for American capitalism may thus be found more in the structural constraints on US politics than in its direct contributions to the nineteenth-century American economy."
capitalism  history  slavery  us  2019  1619project  johnclegg  nytimes  matthewdesmond  civilwar  constitution  law  economics  race  racism  labor  work  unions  organizing  division  kevinkruse  jeneeninterlandi  davidwaldstricher  robineinhorn  politics  policy  commerce  taxes  taxation  fugitiveslaveact  capitalmobility  fourteenthamendment  abolition  propertyrights  property 
7 weeks ago by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read