The Free Market Slave Trade

We continue our reports on capitalism and sex slavery, below.

But first, a peek at the markets. Not much action in stocks yesterday. But gold continues to lose ground. Traders are talking about ‘tapering off’ again. The unemployment numbers improved…bringing the Federal Reserve closer to its target. If the goal is reached, and if the Fed eases up on its bond purchases, it is supposed to be bad for the money metal.

Should you worry about it? Should you sell your gold…fearing that the Fed might come to its senses and stop QE before it increases the inflation rate?


Last week, the IMF hosted a conference at which two papers were presented by Fed economists. In effect, they proposed an alternative to the current program. Now, the Fed plans to ‘taper off’ as soon as one of two targets is hit. Unemployment drops to 6.5% and/or consumer price inflation reaches 2.2%.

Under the new plan, the Fed will wait for unemployment of 5.5% – practically FULL employment (as long as you don’t count all those people who don’t have jobs) – and/or a CPI of 2.5%.

The last time we looked, the CPI was falling, not rising. And not only in America. In Europe, consumer prices are increasing at less than 1% per year…dangerously close to deflation and very similar to Japanese rates. This caused Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, to cut its main refinancing rate to 0.25%.

In the US, the last full year CPI figure we have is 1.7%.

As to the unemployment numbers, the feds seem to have bent the figures in their direction by eliminating millions of people from the job pool. This might flatter the numbers, but it doesn’t do much for household incomes – on which a real recovery depends.

This suggests to us that the Fed is not really going to taper – not any time soon. It just wants to keep the markets on their toes…and hold the door open for more interventions.

Interventions were the subject at hand in Kilkenny. Broadly, most attendees and speakers at the Kilkenomics conference were in favour of it. Our report continues:

The sun had made no appearance all day, so it might have been midnight…or only four in the afternoon. But at Cleere’s bar, the drinking had been going on for many hours before the ‘debate’ began.

Can capitalism be kept on the straight and narrow,‘ was the question before us. The subtext issue: can regulators stay ahead of the industries they are meant to regulate?

We had no doubt about it. ‘No’ was the correct answer. Capitalists will use every trick in the book to subvert, undermine, twist and corrupt the very system that made them rich. Regulators will always help them.

Why? Because of the law of Declining Marginal Utility. As you get more of something each additional unit is worth less to you than the one before. Like shots of Irish whisky; the first is a vivid treasure…the last is lost in a blur. So too, the dollar in your pocket now is always worth more than any extra dollar you might make tomorrow.

Government – a reactionary institution whose chief purpose is to look into the future and prevent it from happening – helps protect what is…at the expense of what will be. Why? Today’s rich people offer bribes. Tomorrow’s rich don’t even exist yet. Today’s rich people turn the machinery of government to their own purposes – which is why cronies will always be capitalism’s worst enemies.

They talk the talk of ‘free enterprise’, but quietly walk over to the regulators, confident that they can be bought at a reasonable price. The regulators then wrap up the whole industry in red tape, which helps keep out the competition. And in a crisis – such as the credit crunch of ’08-’09 – the overseers bring in government support, as needed, to keep their host alive. Keep capitalism on the straight and narrow? Forget it!

But there was no time to explain all that to the dozens of spectators, each with a pint of Guinness in his hand, and many more in his belly. We had only a couple of shots; we had to make them good. Otherwise, our commie-sympathising opponents – who had already won over the audience – would leave us crumpled over on the stage…whimpering for mercy.

Violence? Or peaceful cooperation?‘ we began, like a Prince of Denmark with an economics degree. ‘We have been programmed over millions of years for both.

But what works? Cooperation – chiefly in hunting – increased the total return for primitive peoples. Cooperation produces win-win transactions. Today, that is as true in the case of the exchange of bodily fluids as it is with oil or money.

But people are competitive. They don’t always want win-win. In most of pre-history, men competed for women. This was not a win-win situation at all. It was a win-lose situation. The supply of women was limited. You could only get more by forcing someone else to have less.

We interrupt the debate scene at Cleere’s pub, to wander down to the coast, to the little tourist town of Baltimore. It is a tiny and mostly forgotten relic today. But what a story it has to tell; one of the most remarkable stories in Christendom. For it was the only town in Britain, Scotland or Ireland that was ever attacked by Moors. Why? They wanted more.

Imagine the shock to poor Joane Broadbrook. She awoke early on the morning of June 20, 1631, to discover her roof was on fire and troops of the Turkish Ottoman Empire were breaking down her door. ‘Heavy with child’, she must have thought it was a nightmare.

But it was a nightmare that wouldn’t stop, even if she pinched herself. A notorious Barbary Coast pirate named Morat Rais had organised a slaving expedition, with a crew of desperados, backed by 230 regular Turkish troops, Janissaries, in their bright red tunics and curved yatagan sabers.

Mr Rais was Dutch, aka Jans Jensen. He had been a slave too. But in the open meritocracy of the Barbary Coast slave trade, he had risen through the ranks to become an admiral of the fleet. Now, he made Sallee, on the Moroccan coast, his base.

On that day in June, Mr Rais and his band of entrepreneurs and adventurers were in the middle of what could be described as a capitalist undertaking. The project had been financed, equipped and staffed by trained professionals, months before.

Mr Rais’s ship had left port in Algiers to a tumultuous send-off, much like cutting the ribbon on a new factory. The raw material – 107 residents of the town of Baltimore on the South coast of Ireland – had been taken in. They were now being processed…first by driving them into the hold of their vessels, then by shipping them back to the retail market in Algiers, and finally by putting them up for sale.

The slave market in Algiers was a ‘free market‘, in some respects. Much like an auction of used farm equipment, prospective buyers were allowed careful inspection. The men were poked and prodded, potential buyers wanted to see how they might hold up.

And they were asked questions: What had they done? What skills did they have? How hard had they worked? The unlucky ones had the hard hands and muscles of field hands. They were sent to the galleys and to the quarries, where they were usually worked to death after a few years, although we know there were many exceptions.

The lucky ones had marketable skills – such as gunsmithing – and were spared the oars and the sledges. Instead, they were brought into a complex, sophisticated, and highly nuanced system of slavery, which was also curiously ‘free’ in its own way.

Most of the captives from Baltimore were women and children. It was the women that got the closer inspection. Bidders were allowed to feel for themselves the firmness of a woman’s breasts and determine whether or not she was still a virgin.

Each buyer formed in his own mind the right value of the merchandise, and then, in an outcry auction, a price was established. We don’t know if the price thus established was ‘perfect’ in the sense that today’s economists use. But it was the best they could do under the circumstances.

In the early 17th century, business was good, and it was protected and regulated by the government. The white slavers roamed as far as Iceland bringing back the valuable fair-skinned women. Morat Rais himself had committed a ghastly atrocity on Heimaey Island, Iceland, in 1627. He attacked with five ships.

Arriving in the Westmann Islands, he assaulted several towns. But on this raid, as on many others, business was soon mixed with a perverse pleasure. The troops went wild, murdering, mutilating and raping hundreds of innocent islanders – men, women and children.

They were there on business. But they didn’t seem interested in maximising profits. Half the population was wasted before it was even loaded up for shipping. What kind of business was this?

Documents from the period show the going rate for women was between $86 and $357. An extraordinarily beautiful woman, however, could bring more. Men, generally, sold for less.

When we saw these figures we were shocked and disgusted. One hundred bucks for a woman who could bring you a lifetime of pleasure; the buyers were being cheap. But again, markets are never wrong.

Economists can explain these things. A woman would be capitalised based on the net expected benefit, not the gross. That is, you’d have to subtract the cost of supporting her and the grief she would cause you along the way.

Besides, supply and demand figured in the equation too. Pirates like Morat Rais were bringing hundreds of new slaves to the market. Demand had a hard time keeping up. The Sultan already had about 1,000 wives and concubines in his Topkapi harem. What could he do with another one?

Also, you have to adjust these prices to the modern world. At the time, a clergyman might work all year for $100. So, we can imagine that a pretty young woman, in today’s terms, would have fetched about as much as a cheap house or an expensive car. Seems perfectly reasonable, no?


Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

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Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America’s most respected authorities. Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and Money.

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