Subject: now "slavery and intellectual property"
From: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller <>
Date: Sat, 13 May 2006 08:25:56 -0400

>For the purpose at hand, such cross-section comparisons are
>meaningless in themselves.  The question is whether the slave-owning
>states could have done even better had they converted to a free
>economy.  Fogel's data (as presented in Time on the Cross) seems to
>support an overall relatively high productivity in the South, with the
>free sector being competitive with the slave sector.

Heh. This might be true. I regurgitated the economics of slavery that 
led to the Civil War as taught in the Orange (California) Unified School 
District, circa 1963. Of course, that school district was controlled by 
John Birch Society members who also told us there were 1 million Red 
Chinese troops hiding in Baja California, ready to invade us at any 

But there may have been some grains of truth buried in there. "Slaves 
were valuable" may or may not have been "true" if compared to 
alternatives that were not widely tried, including plantations run using 
freedmen sharecroppers or divided into plots families could run for 
themselves with the "plantation owner" acting as crop broker and shipper.

Bringing cotton weaving and clothing production closer to the 
cotton-producing areas was something else not tried on a large scale. 
Part of this was because, in the days of water-powered factories you 
couldn't have many of them in the flatlands where cotton thrived, and  
it was probably cheaper to ship cotton downstream on the rivers and then 
to New England under sail than to ship it upstream to Tennessee and 
other "southern" places where you had fast-flowing rivers. Steam power 
was changing that when the Civil War started, so we'll never know how 
steam power might have changed production patterns in a slave-based 
economy except for one thing: Northern bankers and industrialists whose 
wealth was not tied up in slaves probably had more money to invest in 
southern factories and might have ended up directly dominating the 
southern economy.

>True.  However, business is generally an evolutionary process, as we
>see with the "herd mentality of VCs" that we love to lament.  That is,
>like the dinosaurs, the slave owners knew *their* business; what they
>didn't recognize is that reality had changed the nature of business
>while they weren't looking.

And most of them were certainly not equipped for conversion to food 
production "Western style" on small, homesteaded family farms. Or 
possibly for running factories. Right now -- in the media business-- 
there are an awful lot of people good at running newspapers and 
magazines who have trouble understanding how the "dialog" nature of the 
Internet is changing their jobs. On the whole, we humans don't like change.

>Again beside the point.  OTOH, the rising price of slaves does suggest
>that capital destruction was not occuring at that point, but it's not
>conclusive (if capital destruction was occurring, that might also
>drive up price through relative scarcity).

Importation of slaves slowed heavily in the 19th century. I don't have 
exact figures, but 15 - 20 years ago I looked over records for the Fells 
Point slave market in Baltimore from that era. It looked to me like 
sales of newly-imported slaves went down every year starting in 1820 and 
possibly earlier. This may have been partly because the geographic 
center of slavery was shifting west, but my reading of contemporary 
newspaper reports (scattered and not well-remembered because slavery was 
not my prime research focus) seemed to indicate that fewer ships were 
engaged in the slave trade every year; that there were more lucrative 
things you could could do  with the same ship and crew.

>However, note that (as Russ pointed out) there were various subsidies
>and regulations that strongly favored slavery.  This could support
>both your "individual slaveholders were not stupid" and my
>"slaveholding society as a whole blew it" positions at the same time.

Totally. Plus, if your "wealth" is primarily in the form of slaves, and 
slaves start having less value, you are going to do whatever you can to 
prop up your resource's value, including moving to W. Louisiana or S. 
Texas from the Carolinas or Virginia. Think Silicon Valley industrial 
property owners in the dot-crash. They had mega-bucks tied up in 
"valuable" empty buildings that cost money to keep (taxes, some 
utilities, often mortgage payments) -- except they couldn't move those 
buildings the way slaveowners could move slaves. Again, we don't have a 
good idea of how the economics of slavery would have played out in the 
U.S. without the Civil War.

My personal belief (not founded on resarch ) is that slaves would 
gradually have become an expensive luxury; a status symbol for the rich, 
with a few slave-run factories and farms remaining out in the 
hinterlands that would have slowly died out because of constant legal 
and societal pressure to treat their (human) livestock more humanely.

>    Ben> Thomas Lord pointed us at
>    Ben>, which
>    Ben> includes the price of slaves over time.

There was a whole lot more in that article. Note the part about western 
settlements. Also note the part about the south transitioning from a 
slaveowning to a sharecropping economy -- but with little change in 
crops grown and relatively few management changes, i.e. the same (white) 
plantation-owning crowd ran things and stayed as close as possible to 
the old ways instead of looking for totally different new ones.

On reparations: A few of you have met my wife and have seen that she is 
"Black" but may also have noticed that she is visually far from "pure" 
African. In fact, it is 100% provable (and proved) that race-mixing was 
common on the Griner plantation, near Macon, GA, from which her father's 
family came to Baltimore in the early 20th century.  A Griner family 
reunion crowd once tried to do some slavery reparation calculations and 
found that in round terms everybody at the picnic ought to give the 
person next to them $5 and let it go. (Griner reunions are multi-racial. 
Debbie's grandfather's funeral in Baltimore had a fair number of "white" 
Griners in attendance who had come up from Georgia to be there.)

A non-economic note: Last year Debbie and I went to a Civil War 
re-enactment  day at the Gamble Plantation here  in  Manatee County, 
Florida.  Debbie was the only visibly black person there. She felt 
extremely uncomfortable so we didn't stay long.  Her comment was, "These 
people are, like, 'We were born too late to have slaves, so let's dress 
up and pretend we do.'"

Beyond a certain point of wealth, and that point varies from person to 
person, I doubt that money has much meaning in and of itself. Rather, it 
becomes a symbol of power and a way to increase one's power. Slavery (in 
the now-outlawed U.S. sense) is the ultimate power over another person. 
Even being a white non-slaveowner in a place where whites are inherently 
able to order blacks around is a form of power, which confers 
status/wealth upon the powerholder and strips it from the powerless.

How this relates to modern software licensing choices and the idea of 
"intellectual property" -- if it does at all -- is up to the individual 
to evaluate in light of his or her own experiences. I have my opinion, 
and you have yours. :)

- Robin