Impact of slave and free labor in new world economy
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Impact of slave and free labor in new world economy
Most landowners in the new world era relied on slave labor to drive production of staple crops. Though free laborers were available, they were scarce an unable to satisfy the high demand for labor. Slave laborers rendered their services under duress while free workforce supplied their services at will. To deeply understand how the new world economic growth relied on both forms of labor, the essay examines both types of workers and determine which kind of labor returned a higher yield. The paper also analyses the ideals of capitalism advanced by Adam Smith and uses the arguments fronted by Erik Williams to explain why capitalism was inappropriate for new world era. Furthermore, the essay examines the truths of staple crop farming comparing and contrasting the realities with the need to bring civilization to Africa. The paper holds the claim that despite slave trade being ethically wrong, it played a more prominent role in growing the economies of a nation that relied on it for production.
According to Williams (1944, p. 4), slavery played a significant part in the development of early economies like Greece and Roman empires. Since slave labor was readily available, and the leaders utilized them to build infrastructure and work on the farms. Workers contracted under slave labor had no choice but to render their services to their masters. Harley (2013, p. 26) noted that free labor was not sufficient to cover labor demand and could have ended up pushing the cost of production up and affect the supply of commodities in the market. Landowners decided to acquire slaves to plug the labor shortage. Williams (1944) noted that economic conditions pushed large-scale farmers to rely on the coerced labor rather than the need to exploit the poor in the society. Slave owners spent limited financial resources on catering for the labor demands of their farms. A significant argument fronted by Adam Smith as described by Williams (1944) is that slave labor is less profitable when compared to free labor. Adam Smith backs his discussions with the claim that people involved in free human resources are more skilled hence possess the necessary knowledge to carry out a task, unlike the slave labor where the slaves have no prior training on the work they will undertake. Whereas Adam Smith is right regarding skilled labor, their manner of operation was not favorable to labor needs of estate owners. Williams (1944) disagrees with the arguments put forward by Adam Smith noting that there are instances when slave labor is profitable especially when the tasks being carried out are cyclic tasks like crop farming. William explains that since free labor was scarce, slavery becomes the alternative form of labor. The landowners realized that having met the initial cost to acquire the slave, they paid very little towards the labor that they provided.
Slave workforce provided an uninterrupted supply of workforce to large-scale farmers ensuring that they were able to turn farming into a profitable enterprise. Harley (2013, p.25) noted that the role played by slave labor in growing the economy of new world could not be overlooked. Harley explains that labor for crops like tobacco, sugar, and cotton mainly came from slave workers imported from Africa and India. Poor natives were also involved in the production of crops as free laborers, but there were less desirable due to their low productivity. The slave owners had absolute control over their slaves and could coerce them to work when necessary. On the other hand, nobody had control over free labor as the workers only allowed themselves to get hired during high demand season. Williams (1944) noted that the productivity of slave laborers was attached to their lack of property ownership, which meant that the slaves were free to dedicate all their attention to the work at hand. Free laborers, on the other side, owned property either individually or through cooperatives. Hence, they were only available when not working on their properties. Furthermore, free laborers were paid minimum wage in return for their services something that slave laborers could not enjoy. The cost of maintaining a slave was much lower meaning that the slave owner benefited from the proceeds of the farm.
Adam Smith believed that forced labor flourished due to the greed of power and self- importance of the slave owners. Smith also noted that depending on slave labor was morally wrong. The sentiments expressed by Smith are not unfounded considering that slave owners benefited immensely from unpaid labor provided by the slaves. They had the opportunity to gain power and status in the society on account of wealth that they accumulated. William (1944) however disputes the position taken by Adam Smith regarding the growth of forced labor. Williams holds the opinion that economic reasons were the force behind the growing popularity of slave labor. The scarcity of labor meant production of raw materials could stall due to short labor supply.
Smith also held the opinion that the most critical factor of production was land. William (1944) contends that availability of land with no labor makes it unproductive and useless. William’s argument was based on the fact that landowners could not fully exploit the potential of their capital assets if they had insufficient labor. The fact that Landowners with no benefit of slave labor were much behind regarding wealth when compared to slave-owners indicated that labor and land added value to each other.
Smith (1990) advised workers to specialize and do what they were best suited in to deliver the best results. Smith explained that the move speeds up the production and increases the skill of the worker. Williamson (1944, p. 6) however believed that such a move would apply in industries but not in crop farming where large labor force was needed to carry out simultaneous repetitive tasks like digging and planting which take place at different time. Labour is divisible in manufacturing due to the short time it takes to create a product. Furthermore, farming needed people who could carry out various tasks in the farm depending on the season hence the workers were expected to learn and practice how they will ply their trade in the farm. Factory workers, under division of labor, could not learn the whole processes of manufacturing a commodity but also the tasks they were needed to perform.
Regarding the supply of free labor, Williams (1944, p. 6) explains that Smith failed to note that industrialization came after dependence on crop farming hence the labor ideals for the two sectors of the economy could not be the same. Williams observed that slave labor was appropriate for agriculture as it addressed workforce shortage and that there was no chance for equality in the labor force to thrive. An analysis by Nuun (2007) found out that slave labor brought about the unequal distribution of resources among the inhabitants and curtailed the supply of free labor as it caused migration of potential labor force and crippled the development of institutions that could protect the rights of free labor.
Preference to African slaves
Slave owners found the African slaves to be highly productive and yielding higher returns than Indians and the natives. Consequently, people of black ancestry made up a large number of slaves working on the farms. A small percentage of slaves were Indians and white people. William (1944) observed that the white slaves were made up of the poor inhabitants of the land, prisoners, and servants. The white slaves were not permanently owned by slave owners and only worked for a specified period before their masters released them. Indian slaves provided labor before they were replaced by the whites then by Africans. Williams (1944, p.8) observed that Indians were weak, both in the body and resolve when subjected to hard work. Furthermore, the Indians could easily succumb to illnesses thus failing to meet the expectation of their white landowners. The blacks, on the other hand, were stronger and resilient. The author notes that an African slave could do the work of more than three Indians on a given day. As a result, slave owners developed a preference for black people over Indians and other races. Also, slaves of African descent were more productive and could endure endless challenges. The whites, on the other hand, were weak and could only carry out light tasks around the farm.
White servants had limited rights including the right to be discharged at the end of the contract period and owning property when finally free. The blacks, on the other hand, were held for life by their masters, did not know the white man’s language and culture hence was treated as ignorant. As a result, they were in high demand as they offered an uninterrupted supply of labor to their masters. As servants, black slave laborers were mistreated and subjected to inhumane conditions to prevent an uprising that could see them disobeying their masters.
Comparing and contrasting truths of staple crop production and civilization of Africa
Williams (1944) noted that crop farming during the 16th century was beset with challenges. Despite the abundance of land, availability of labor was affecting production and causing the short supply of raw materials for industries and food. The involvement of slave labor solved the problem caused by scarcity of labor but gave rise to other issues like limited supply of skilled labor and poor farming practices, which affect land fertility. Williams (1944, p. 7) observed that profitable crop farming depends on good agricultural applications like crop alternation, embracing modern farming techniques, and having sufficient labor in place to deliver the food production. The way Williams (1944) describes the challenges facing arable farming in the new world, one can draw parallels with the journey to Africa as described by Conrad (1996) that a hostile environment marred it. In Williams (1944), crop farming was faced with a scarcity of labor, harsh economic conditions, and hostile climate. Conrad (1996) notes that Africa was very challenging land to foreigners. Hostilities between the natives and the white traders affected the relationship between the visitors and inhabitants.
The books by Conrad (1996) and Williams (1944) all focus on the ability of the white people to exert influence on the African people both in African and those working as slaves in the new world. Williams (1944) explains that farming provided a platform for the white masters to oppress the black slaves providing unpaid labor on their farms, as they were ignorant and unable to adopt the culture of the white man. Conrad (1996) notes that the white people living in Africa managed to make porters out of the indigenous people so that they can aid them in transporting ivory to various collection points. They managed to exert influence on the Africans by meting out punishments, chaining them together, and mistreating them. The farms described by Williams (1944) used influence on the slave laborers by depriving them the right to freedom or to own property.
Another common theme in the books by William (1944) and Conrad (1996) is exploitation. The slave owners exploited the strength and strong will of the black slaves to develop and expand their plantations and ensuring that they incur little expense in the process. The wide gap between the cost of labor and sales from the crop farms provided that the farming enterprise turned a tidy profit. Conrad (1996) observed that the white population in Africa exploited the flexibility and strength of the African to act as luggage bearers while the white settlers gained from the trade, the African porters were not compensated for their troubles.
In both books, natives were displaced from their lands by entrepreneurial slave owners and the dominant white travelers. Williams (1944, p. 24) stated that as the plantations grew larger, neighboring individual farmers vacated their lands in favor of large-scale farmers. In some situations, peasant farmers were forced out by wealthy landowners thereby decreasing their population considerably. Conrad (1996) observed that Marlow stumbled upon abandoned villages while journeying through the African wilderness. The vacated villages bore the signs of fleeing Africans in fear of their lives. In most cases, as it was a result of hostilities between the two communities.
Conrad (1996) notes that it was an insurmountable task to bring civilization to Africa as the inhabitants were too hostile to the white settlers while the Europeans while the Europeans retaliated by mistreating the Africans. Conrad tried to push the agenda of kinship between the whites and the blacks living in Africa with little success. Williams (1944) observed that staple crop farming created class division between the wealthy and the poor. The wealthy landowners assumed the role of masters while the haves not were made slaves irrespective of skin color. While Conrad advocated for a close relationship between the white and the black race in Africa, Williams makes no such attempt in his book opting to explain that slave labor was necessary for economic reasons.
Another contrast between the books by William (1944) and Conrad (1996) lies in the purpose of the two books. While the book by Williams (1944) dwells on the economic prosperity brought about by free and slave labor on crop farming the book by Conrad explores the possibility of bringing civilization to Africa and establishing the trade. Williams focuses on farming activities as a source of livelihood to the inhabitants of the new world while Conrad focuses on business as an alternative source of income to people living in Africa.
Slave labor was the primary force in crop farming which provided food for the inhabitants of the new world and raw materials for their industries. The economies of countries relying on slave labor flourished due to little expense on the wage bill.
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Conrad, J. (1996) Heart of Darkness. 2nd ed. Charlottesville: Generic NL Free book Publisher.
Harley, K. C. (2013). SLAVERY, THE BRITISH ATLANTIC ECONOMY AND THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. Discussion Papers in Economic and Social History, 113(2013). Retrieved November 26, 2017, from https://www.economics.ox.ac.uk/materials/papers/12739/harley113.pdf
Nathan, N. (2007). Slavery, Inequality, and Economic Development in the Americas: An Examination of the Engerman-Sokoloff Hypothesis [Scholarly project]. Retrieved November 26, 2017, from https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/nunn/files/domestic_slavery.pdf
Smith, A. (1990) The Wealth of Nations. Hoboken, N.J. : BiblioBytes
Williams, E. (1944). The Origins of Negro Slavery’ from Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
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