[OPE-L:6972] Re: Re: Re: the cost of slaves

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Fri Apr 12 2002 - 07:19:46 EDT

Paul C writes in 6960

>I think this is a very fair point.  Though I would count the cost
>of purchasing slaves as part of variable capital.

Yes, there is a good argument for this. It is easy to be misled by 
slavery into thinking all slave labor was unpaid. In fact, slave 
labor was paid for; there was a defacto investment in variable 
capital. It may be one of the cruelest historic paradoxes that a 
greater portion of slave labor time was paid for than the labor time 
of free wage labor time is paid for. Yet the appearance is that all 
the labor time of free wage labor is paid for.

>One has to distinguish the value of the slave under conditions
>of an isolated slave economy from the price of slaves when the
>slave economy can engage on raids on pre-slave mode of production

yes. it was the closing of west africa to such raids that may have 
led the US in particular to depend on the internal reproduction of 
slaves. Wallerstein guesses that this may have had the effect of 
raising for North American plantation owners (he does not use the 
term) the variable capital which they had to invest  The Brazilians 
could count longer on fresh supplies of slaves from say Mozambique 
long after West Africa was being closed off; there thus seems to have 
been less of an investment in the reproduction of slaves in Brazil.

>When slaves have to be purchased from internal sources, then
>the value of the slave will represent the cost of raising them from
>infancy until they are able to work productively at the age of
>perhaps 7 or 8. It is  unlikely that this price will be earned
>as quickly as you suggest from the current surplus value produced
>by the child slave.

This is a good point indeed. If slaves had to reproduced internally 
and variable capital thereby raised, this would have posed a threat 
to the profitability of slavery which already has the precarious 
basis of absolute surplus value. There is of course a very 
sophisticated debate about whether the profitability of slavery had 
begun to diminish over time.

>When there are slave raids then the price of slaves falls below
>their value. That is why the slave trade was profitable, slaves
>could be purchased off the coast of Guinea at a price well below
>their reproduction value in Jamaica or Kentucky,

Yes, as Wallerstein notes,  US planters had a higher break even age 
with regard to slaves than planters elsewhere in the hemisphere. 
Other planters were not as willing to absorb the cost of a mother's 
lost work time or the costs of child rearing.

  So in the US there seems to have been a higher investment in medical 
care as well as encouragement of fertility for slave women. 
Wallerstein forgets to note here that this higher investment was 
matched by more violent break ups of the the North American slave 
family as members were hawked on the market.

>If we consider a self reproducing slave economy then the price
>paid for slaves is variable capital and is homologous to the
>part of the wage that goes to support the worker's children.

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