When the Feds Tell You Bend Over…

Today we conclude our reminiscences from our recent trip to Ireland to attend Kilkenomics, a festival of stand-up comedy mixed with economics.

First, a clarification: Although some of it takes place in pubs and taverns around the charming city of Kilkenny…and although audiences enjoy the mix of the dismal science and comic relief washed down with pints of Guinness…most of the real drinking goes on outside the event. 

The event itself draws an impressive list of the ‘who’s who’ of economics. Some of whom were quick to get on your editor’s case…

 ‘I can’t believe you compared government employees to rapists!‘ one of the speakers – a former Goldman Sachs stockbroker – began.

That’s ridiculous. They’re there to protect people. What about policemen? Firemen? Not to mention the people who saved the economy from another depression?

Well, stick with us a minute,‘ we enjoined. ‘We’re just trying to understand the real nature of government regulation.

Is it something where you can ‘just say NO’? Or is it something where you’re gonna get…(we hesitated a moment….the sentence we were about to complete required the f-word…the audience would get it…but we’re not an f-word kind of guy)…where you’re gonna get screwed, whether you like it or not?

The Irish women bought on the slave market after Dutch pirate Morat Rais’s raid on the town of Baltimore were taken into Ottoman harems, either as concubines or servants. There they were protected – by guards, eunuchs, regulators – and ultimately, by the Ottoman army.

But what kind of protection was it? Could they ‘just say NO’?

They were not even asked. They had been bought for the pleasure of their owners. As far as we know from first-hand accounts, they didn’t have to be forced to submit.

They went along with the program, like travellers in a TSA line…or taxpayers enduring an audit. When the feds tell you bend over…you have no choice. That is very different from a market economy – where you might be compelled by necessity or by desire, but not by naked force.

Surrounded by the silks and sunshine of Algiers, the Baltimore women may have looked on the bright side. Rather than contemplate a lifetime of sex-slavery, they may have thought they had gotten a reprieve from the prison of hard work and the relentless cold, dark and damp of Ireland.

Besides, getting to share the pasha’s bed was an honour. If it brought children, the children might inherit the pasha’s money and his position; and their mother might become ruler of the harem.

Many European women made what must have been happy marriages in the Islamic system. Many became rich and powerful. Many felt their new masters treated them better than their husbands back home. And when, 14 years later, a warship from Britain arrived in Algiers and negotiated the Baltimore slaves’ release, only two women – out of an original 34 – wanted to go back.

For men, if they weren’t sold off into hard labour, slavery in North Africa could be similarly supple.

Slaves could practice their own religions. They spoke their own languages. They were free to operate their own businesses. They could make money. They could learn skills and fill important roles in almost all industries.

Some became slavers – like Jan Jensen, who became Morat Rais, whose son Anthony used the family name Van Salee and moved to New York. With the profits of the white slave trade, he was able to buy a substantial part of what is today Brooklyn.

Some slaves became traders and financiers, buying and selling goods from all over the Mediterranean. At least one amassed a fortune while still a slave. Some, like Miguel de Cervantes and Captain John Smith of the Virginia colony, got away.

Others didn’t want to get away.

Algiers was an advanced economy with a standard of living considerably higher than in London or Paris – unless you were a slave. Part of the reason for its prosperity was probably the relative freedom it allowed its slaves.

Slavery came with many contradictions and nuances. In North Africa as well as North America, it prospered in what were otherwise successful market economies. And in both places, it was reinforced, regulated and subsidized by the government.

Poor whites in Alabama paid (modest) taxes to help support the government, whose main challenge was to control slave labour. Few poor whites probably realized it, but they were victims of involuntary servitude, too – forced to subsidise the slaveholders by paying some of the costs of policing their slaves.

Likewise, on the Barbary Coast a vast and confusing web of levies, fees, commissions and taxes was used to maintain the garrisons that kept slaves from escaping.

Do we have to spell it out?

In every industry, in every epoch, the regulators and the regulated – the parasite and the host – share the same goal: to connive against the public interest. Armed with the police power of the state, they don’t take no for an answer.

Government was complicit in the slave trade at every level. How slaves were to be marketed, employed and disposed of was typically codified by the legislature and enforced by the police.

Runaways were captured at taxpayer expense. Punishments were established by government employees…and often administered by them. Most important, government bore much of the cost of policing slavery, making it a viable institution long after it should have disappeared.

But today, slavery has been abolished in most of the world. We still have wage slaves…and tax slaves. But chattel slavery has largely disappeared. Progress has been made. It is not an eternal cycle of cooperation followed by violence, after all. Over time, cooperation increases.

Why is that? Because cooperation pays. And the more civilised a society becomes the more essential it is to cooperate. 

By contrast, violence pays badly. You might be able to whip a group of field hands to keep them on the job, but their output would be minimal.

Only at the most rote tasks is slave labour a practical alternative. In modern industries it is not competitive. Imagine slaves coming up with a marketing strategy. Imagine slaves driving trucks.

Imagine slaves in the accounting department. Imagine slaves in Hollywood, rewriting scripts. Imagine them in the pharmaceutical industry, conducting double-blind tests. Imagine them with chain saws clearing power lines.

Compared to properly incentivised free workers, with stock options and healthcare plans, equipped with the latest machinery and trained to use it, slaves can’t compete.

Several inconclusive experiments have been conducted on the issue.

Germany ran much of its industry on slave labour during the Second World War. The Soviet Union operated a quasi-slave economy for decades. The Japanese used prisoners of war on various projects.

And Napoleon tried to reintroduce slavery to French possessions so he could use forced labour on sugar plantations. This effort failed so miserably that France not only abandoned the whole project, it sold Louisiana to the United States.

Slavery didn’t pay. By the end of the 19th century, it had been abandoned almost everywhere.

This makes us wonder about our modern form of government. Does it pay? Is it transitional too? Will it, too, disappear, like slavery?


But wait. Who won the argument back in Cleere’s bar in Kilkenny?

You think regulators are going to keep capitalism on the straight and narrow? Ha ha ha…‘ we said.


Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

Join Markets and Money on Google+

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

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 MoneyDice Have No Memory: Big Bets & Bad Economics from Paris to the Pampas, the newest book from Bill Bonner, is the definitive compendium of Bill's daily reckonings from more than a decade: 1999-2010. 

To have Bill's reckonings delivered straight to your inbox subscribe to Markets and Money for free here.

Read more

Bill Bonner

Latest posts by Bill Bonner (see all)

Leave a Reply

5 Comments on "When the Feds Tell You Bend Over…"

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Matthew Mitchell
What you say about governments also applies to your beloved capitalist organisations. Yes, slavery was inefficient, so it has been replaced with “softer” forms of coercion: “Crozier (2010) also discusses problems related to placing people in bureaucratic organisations where they are to some degree coerced into conformity. He describes how the brutal coercion by overseers in eighteen century mills has been replaced by techniques which draw on a better understanding of human nature to use a much more liberal set of pressures. This is aided by an education system which already internalises a number of conformities such that people have… Read more »
slewie the pi-rat
well, at least the French haven’t given up, totally, yet… they’re still fighting for their nuclear industries! hut! hut! France recently VETOED the nuclear agreement w/ Iran in the UN P5 ‘Security’ Council? quelle merde! what’s a swift-boater to do? at least he told the Senate wing-nuts to STFU with that ‘moar sanctions’ crapola for now and, by implication, Bibi, itself… “…please STFU,” said Secretary Kerry politely, to his former Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle… “…i’m still trying to negotiate with the Iranians, here, you uber-idiotic atomic industry shill-puppet fascist pigs!” …meanwhile, zut alors: atomic wastes, enslaved… Read more »
radioactive rat
While in Warsaw, the climate-control folks have failed to introduce a resolution to address a simple question which Slewie would like to see SCIENCE answer: ~How much has the planet been ‘warmed’ by atomic fission and power generation, in the last ~70-75 years? Heat is by-product, is it not? A BIG by-product? And, quantifiable, given the mega-tonnage used to generated steam, a ‘greenhouse’ gas, itself. Now, don’t forget to add in all the bombs and the underground ‘testing’ too! Even underground, the enormous quantities of heat produced by fission has to go somewhere: into the land, atmosphere, and OCEANS [big… Read more »
deToke deVille

You two Mystery Science Theater fans think there could possibly be a global conspiracy to blame ‘nuques’ planetary heat gain on ‘carbonne’?
And you’d like a second opinion, based on math?
Well, that’s reassuring!

We’re clear you have no idea what you’re talking about.
Why start now?

I wonder what Penn and Teller would say about this?
Or at least Penn?
He might want to know, too, probably.

Come to think of it, I DO know what Penn would say, I’m just not entirely certain of to whom he would say it.

slewie the pi-rat
remember the ‘credibility gap’? producing electricity with nuclear energy is not propaganda. claiming that it is safe, clean, and cheap IS propaganda. like banster ‘market’, ‘growth’, and money laundering propaganda, like Homeland Security and privacy propaganda, the nuclear propaganda is @/near FAIL. to the “atomic MILFs”: nuclear energy + military-industrialism + the fiat debt system = CLOUT. at this point in time, the nuclear propaganda is no longer working BECAUSE no one can believe it any longer~~too much dissonance. safe? clean? cheap? L0L!!! if nuclear energy is to advance further in history as part of the foundation of these nations’… Read more »
Letters will be edited for clarity, punctuation, spelling and length. Abusive or off-topic comments will not be posted. We will not post all comments.
If you would prefer to email the editor, you can do so by sending an email to letters@marketsandmoney.com.au