On the Other Hand...

by Jim Davies

Abolition, not "Reform"


Imagine that the year is 1856, not 1996, and here in the North East there is gathering momentum a move to abolish slavery on the grounds that it's morally inexcusable for a human being to be owned by anyone but himself, and along on the public scene comes this little man from Texas with big ears and a squeaky voice, who just happens to have made a carpet-bag full of gold by administering for the slave owners a free medical service to all their slaves.

And he says, Now see here, this is what we have to do, for slavery as now carried out is simply not efficient; resources are being lost, and labor is so cheap in the South that there's going to be a giant sucking sound and we'll lose all our slaves South of the Border. We have to smarten up our act, and I'm just your man to do it; elect me, and I'll see to it that the slaves are made more respectful, content and productive and I'll end this administrative waste.

And then a rival comes from Colorado and joins his Olde Reforme Party and says he can take care of things even better because he notices that some of the gold that's being held to make sure that when the slaves stop work from old age and exhaustion they will have something to eat, is actually going to some slaves who are relatively well off - they managed somehow to put something aside. And this upstart says he'll means-test all those handouts to elderly slaves and make sure the funds are properly used, but like our little Texan he stands for reforming the present system, not for scrapping it and starting over.

Neither of them takes time to see anything immoral about some people "owning" others, understand; and so neither of them tolerates this talk of Abolition. Indeed, they use some of our Texan's fortune to make sure all the newspapers of the day ignore the Abolitionists and give all their attention to the Reformers - that is, all the attention that they don't lavish on the government of the day just because they're too chicken to think straight and be controversial.

Now, I'm not arguing that, had such Reformers prevailed in the 1850s instead of the Abolitionists, we'd have 100% black slavery with us today; such slavery was already doomed, for machinery could do the work cheaper. A few more decades at most, and it would have ended - without the slaughter of a Civil War. But I am arguing that if some "reforms" had been enacted in the South, that happy day would have been delayed; and that on fundamental moral grounds Abolition was the right thing to advocate; that "reform" was irrelevant. Taking a moral evil and making it more efficient is NOT what goodness is all about. 

Back to the Future

So here we are in 1996, and something strikingly similar is going on, but because all the major media are in the business of propaganda instead of impartial news analysis, this is one of the few places you can learn about it.

The two candidates and Parties who get millions of dollars' worth of free TV exposure every day have nothing fresh or convincing to say whatever. That Dole, especially, can now be talking with a straight face about cutting taxes when for 35 years he had the power to do so and failed to use it, is amazing; that anyone in the media should take him seriously is sick. So my interest here is just to compare the alternatives that do have something different to say: Abolition, or Reform; Libertarian, or Perotista.

Slavery today is more than four times more prevalent than it was a century and a half ago. Then, some 10% of the population lost 100% of the product of their labor, so you could say America was 10% enslaved. Today, 100% of the population loses 45% of our labor (in taxes, to federal, state and local governments) and so by the same reckoning America in 1996 is 45% enslaved. And even that says nothing about the enslavement caused by the way our Owners spend our money to curtail our personal, non-financial liberties.

So if Abolition was a just cause then, and it certainly was, Abolition is at least four and a half times more urgently needed now. If Reform would have been wrong and irrelevant then, it's at least four and a half times more wrong now.

Practical, Too

The moral argument against slavery is so powerful as really to need no other; but today we Abolitionists are all but drowned out by all the cacophany of Establishment opinion, so it will do no harm to point out that for practical reasons too, Reform is irrelevant and impossible. For all their many great faults, I do believe that every politician ever elected went to his office with the wish to reform things somewhat; to eliminate some waste. Their utter failure testifies to how futile is the idea of reform; even if our little Texan friend got to the White House, four years later we'd be no better off - worse, in that any improvements would have been introduced with the cracking of a whip. Recall: the most efficient government of modern times was Adolf Hitler's.

So the practical argument against modern slavery is that government doesn't work. They harder the try, the more they fail. That's the title of the book by Libertarian Presidential Candidate Harry Browne; he systematically demonstrates that every major social problem tackled by government has been made worse, not better, and explains why it must always be so, because of the very nature of government. You really ought to read it, before watching even one more complacent commentary by a TV Talking Head.

In contrast, free people acting freely in their own interest generate a society that DOES work. Adam Smith said that such a free market was guided by an "invisible hand", in that paradoxically but truly, when everyone works for their own interest they necessarily benefit everyone else. Not because they may want to, but because, lacking the ability to force others to buy their services (ie, to enslave them) they can only persuade them, by giving value!

Adam Smith wrote that groundbreaking economic treatise ("An Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations") in 1776, the same year Americans first broke the chains of tax-slavery. It's high time we went back to our roots and did it again.

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