What’s Your Slavery Percentage?


Very few things in human life are truly all or nothing. Almost everything works on a sliding scale, even slavery. The problem is, very few people have ever studied slavery, leaving them with a few emotional slogans instead of actual knowledge.

A Roman slave in a major city, for example, could start and run his own business, might be very rich, and might even become a major intellectual, like Epictetus. A Roman slave working in a mine… well… that was about as bad as it gets.

So, all-or-nothing representations of slavery are false and more often than not are propaganda. This being the case, a question sits in front of us: How enslaved are we? People sometimes get very upset over such questions, but not because they’re invalid. They get upset because they don’t want to confront such thoughts.

Believing that truth matters, however, I’ve decided to raise the question.

What Slavery Really Is

Slavery is a type of economic skim. It’s primarily an economic tool… surrounded by creative justifications, of course. A slave’s surplus (“profit” or “retained earnings”) is transferred to his or her owner. Physical control of the slave serves this purpose – to keep his or her surplus coming in. (We examined this in issue #32 of the subscription letter.)

So, if you keep all of your surplus, you are not at all economically enslaved. If you keep half of your surplus, you’re 50% economically enslaved.

But while slavery is primarily an economic thing, our freedom of action can be restricted as well, and that’s also a type of slavery. And like economics, freedom of action can be restrained partially rather than completely, and usually is.

Freedom – or liberty – on the other hand, is the state of being unrestrained.


If what I’ve written above is true or even mostly true, we can experience various percentages of slavery. In fact, by clinging to the old, all-or-nothing propaganda regarding slavery, we end up deceiving ourselves.

Here, for example, is a very simple calculation of a slavery percentage:

African slave, Alabama plantation, 1830

Economic slavery: 98%

Choice (other than economic): 70%

Overall slavery: 84%

In this case, the slave made very few economic choices – they could trade among themselves – but they could usually do things like mate as they saw fit, which does, after all, matter. So, the net percentage came out to 84%. That’s still horrific, but it’s not “complete slavery.”

Here’s another example:

English serf, 1300 AD

Economic slavery: 45%

Choice slavery: 50%

Overall slavery: 47.5%

This one is tricky. The serf owed his lord a number days of labor per month, averaging at most a third of his time. For the rest of the time he could work his own land as he pleased, but he couldn’t simply leave.

Adding to the complexity, he had a medieval version of a retirement plan: After he was too old to work he was still allowed to eat and couldn’t be put out of his house.

So, I gave him a 45% for economic slavery and 50% for free choice, coming to 47.5% overall.

Two more examples:

American baker, 1890

Economic slavery: 15%

Choice slavery: 15%

Overall slavery: 15%

During this period, the only taxes facing the working man were tarrifs and a few local extractions. (There’s a reason longshoremen and bakers were able to build grand houses in those days.) As for choices, there were social pressures on people, but that’s not slavery, as force was seldom used. Still, to be charitable, I’ve given that a 15% as well.

American plumber, 2016

Economic slavery: 60%

Choice slavery: 40%

Overall slavery: 50%

The modern American loses 50% of his earnings at the state, local, and national levels. In addition, he or she loses a great deal of money in pass-through taxes, taxes that businesses pay and pass on to you. I went to 60% on this, but that figure may be low, as frightening as that may be.

As for choices, those are dying by the day. Hundreds of medical choices are now forbidden, many types of employment are forbidden without state-approved certificates (aka diplomas), and much, much more. So, I think my 40% figure is not high and may in fact be quite reasonable.

“Wait… Worse than Serfs?”

That’s the usual freakout response. But in terms of slavery, yes, it seems so. I agree that serfs didn’t have the technology we do, but machines don’t negate slavery. Keeping our surplus and making unopposed choices negate slavery.

And I think you can see by comparing the 1890 and 2016 calculations why standards of living and the development of new technologies skyrocketed during the 19th century.


It won’t bother me if you disagree; I haven’t spent months putting together unchallengeable numbers on all of this. Neither has anyone else, which is the problem. These are “back of the envelope” calculations.

But if you do disagree, don’t just pass it off. Have the guts to run the numbers on your own. Consider each of the points mentioned above, using honest, best-guess figures. Calculate, and face the conclusion head on.

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Paul Rosenberg

And the Credit for Defeating Slavery in America Goes to… Criminals!


If you’re like me, you learned in school that the slaves of the old American South were freed by Abraham Lincoln, or at least by the central government of the United States. I believed that for a long time, and was not only surprised, but troubled, when I learned otherwise.

But as I dug through the facts about slavery in the South, I found the same pattern that I’ve seen over and over when I examined historical turns for the better: that the true benefactors were opposed and punished.

The people who did the actual work to end slavery were regarded as criminals by every level of the United States government, from Congress and the Supreme Court, down to the local sheriff. The laws of the United States enforced slavery, and powerfully so. Anyone who broke those laws was hunted and punished, exactly the same as ordinary criminals are now.

The Criminals, North and South

There is enough information on the criminals of the North to describe them fairly well. There is relatively little information available on the criminals of the South. For example, look at this map of the Underground Railroad, a people-smuggling network:


Notice that nearly all of the smuggling routes shown are in the North. All the slaves who reached them, however, had to get there via routes in the South. There was a vast network of Southerners who guided slaves northward. As of today, very little information is available about these people, which is unfortunate.

Every person involved with the Underground Railroad was a criminal. For example, one section of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 reads as follows:

Any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct, hinder, or prevent such claimant, his agent or attorney… from arresting such a fugitive from service or labor… or shall rescue, or attempt to rescue, such fugitive from service or labor… or shall harbor or conceal such fugitive, so as to prevent the discovery and arrest of such person… shall… be subject to a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisonment not exceeding six months… and shall moreover forfeit and pay, by way of civil damages to the party injured by such illegal conduct, the sum of one thousand dollars for each fugitive so lost.

(At that time, a thousand dollars would buy a comfortable house.)

A Small Rogues Gallery

Here are a few of the criminals who ended slavery:

Thomas Garrett, born into a prosperous family in Pennsylvania, was a station master on the last stop of the Underground Railroad in Delaware. In 1846, he and a friend named John Hunn were tried and found guilty of helping a family of slaves escape. Because he organized the escape, Garrett was fined $5,400. (Between the two of them, they were involved at least in six trials.)

Garrett smuggled or helped to smuggle 2,700 slaves to freedom, so you can see what kind of damage these people wrought on the economies of slave labor. And here’s another aspect of this illegal smuggling trade: throughout the Civil War, Garrett’s house was guarded by the grateful free Negroes of Wilmington.

Levi Coffin, from a respectable family in North Carolina, became an abolitionist at seven years of age, after asking a slave in a chain gang why he was bound. The man replied that it was to prevent him from escaping and returning to his wife and children.

In his early twenties, Coffin and his cousin started a Sunday School to teach slaves to read the Bible. The plan was soon crushed by slaveholders, who forced them to close the school.

A few years later, Coffin married his long-time friend Catherine White, and they moved to Indiana, where he became a local business leader and was able to supply money, food, clothing, and transportation for smuggling operations.

Coffin’s life was frequently threatened by slave-hunters, who often invaded his home—something that was permitted by law. And, he was expelled from his church.

Calvin Fairbank was born into a religious family in Pike, New York, in 1816. He began to oppose slavery after befriending two escaped slaves at a Methodist meeting. By the time he was 21 years old, he was smuggling slaves across the Ohio River on a lumber raft. Soon he was delivering runaway slaves to Levi Coffin for further transportation to safer locations.

Fairbank became a minister in 1842. A short time later, following the complex rescue of a slave family, someone ratted him out to the government. Both Fairbank and his accomplice, a teacher from Vermont named Delia Webster, were arrested. Webster served less than two months of her sentence, but Fairbank received a 15-year term and no leniency.

Nonetheless, Lewis Hayden, the slave who Fairbank had freed, raised enough money to pay off his former master, and Fairbank obtained a pardon after four years in prison.

Two years later, Fairbank helped a slave named Tamar escape from Kentucky to Indiana. With the help from the governor of Indiana, marshals from Kentucky abducted Fairbank and took him back to their state for trial. He was sentenced to 15 years in the state penitentiary, where he was singled out for exceptionally harsh treatment, including flogging and overwork.

Finally, in 1864 (and after suffering through twelve years of harsh imprisonment), he was pardoned by an acting governor. Prison, however, had broken Fairbank’s health. Although he was able to hold jobs with missionary and benevolent societies, he was never again able to support his family.

The people of Syracuse. Reverend Luther Lee, pastor of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Syracuse, New York, wrote this about the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850:

I never would obey it. I had assisted thirty slaves to escape to Canada during the last month. If the authorities wanted anything of me, my residence was at 39 Onondaga Street. I would admit that and they could take me and lock me up in the Penitentiary on the hill; but if they did such a foolish thing as that I had friends enough in Onondaga County to level it to the ground before the next morning.

Local officials in the North sometimes refused to enforce Federal laws on slavery. In fact, the secession resolution of Georgia complains specifically about this:

For above twenty years the non-slave-holding States generally have wholly refused to deliver up to us persons charged with crimes affecting slave property. They shield and give sanctuary to all criminals who seek to deprive us of this property.

The people of Milwaukee—5,000 of them—stormed the Milwaukee jail in 1854 and released an escaped slave named Joshua Glover. They then sent him onward to Canada. A man named Sherman Booth, who instigated the rescue, was pursued by government officials for years and either jailed or fined a number of times.

These actions, and thousands more like them, are what really killed slavery in America. Politicians came in later to formalize it and to soak up the credit.

“Yeah, but they weren’t real criminals.”

If you are tempted to say this about the people we’ve mentioned above, take a moment to think about this statement, because it places you firmly in the camp of the wild-eyed radicals.

What you’re saying is that all of us have the right to ignore laws made by “democracy.” You’re saying that you, personally, have every right to place your judgment above the state’s.

I happen to agree with you—as does the entire length of the Judeo-Christian tradition—but by saying that, you are spitting on Democracy™ and demeaning your heroic politicians.

Everything governmental, official, and legal said that the men and women we’ve mentioned were criminals. Not only that, but they suffered as criminals—some by way of prisons and fines, and all of them, continually, by having the sword of the state hanging over their heads.

Mr. Lincoln and the FedGuv Legend

I suppose that I shouldn’t conclude a piece like this without addressing Mr. Lincoln and the legend of the noble Northern government. I will do this briefly.

While Lincoln wasn’t particularly a supporter of slavery, he wasn’t a serious opponent of it either. His famous Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was merely a war tactic. It only “freed” slaves in the South, and it even excluded five slave states (Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, and Tennessee). Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, said this about it:

We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.

As for the US government in general, it was very slow in dealing with slavery. Other countries abolished slavery and/or the slave trade in these years:

Denmark and Norway, 1803    
Haiti, 1804
Mexico, 1810
Spain, 1811
Argentina, 1813
Uruguay, 1814
The Netherlands, 1814
Greece, 1822

Chile, 1823
Bolivia, 1831
Great Britain, 1834
France, 1841
Russia, 1841
The Ottoman Empire, 1847
Columbia, 1851
Venezuela, 1854


The fact is that slavery was torn apart by thousands of individuals who were criminalized, hunted, and punished by Washington, DC, and most of the state governments. (Congress even criminalized Northern officials who didn’t help slave hunters.) The story I learned in school was a falsehood, constructed around cherry-picked facts.

Truth be told, nearly all significant moves in new, positive directions are opposed by the powers that be… wherever and whenever they may be.

“All that is really great and inspiring,” said Albert Einstein, “is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.” And institutions—of which governments are the largest and most aggressive—exist by controlling (and thus limiting) the exercise of individual will.

Paul Rosenberg

This article was originally published by Casey Research.

What the World Would Be Like Without Capitalism

slaverySome people say that the search for profit is abusive, heartless, evil, and so on. I’m not particularly in love with profit for its own sake (and I certainly don’t think it justifies abuse), but a reflexive condemnation of profit is deeply ignorant.

The truth is, “profit” killed the ancient abomination of human slavery. To eliminate the ability of people to profit would draw slavery back into the world. And we obviously don’t want that.

Here’s why:

Slavery Was an Economic System

What is not understood is that slavery was the foundation of economics in the old world – such as in Greece and Rome.

Slavery was almost entirely about surplus. (Surrounded by creative justifications, of course.) It was a type of enforced thrift.

An undeveloped man, left to himself, will spend almost all of what he earns. If he does earn some surplus, he’ll likely spend it on luxuries, frivolities, or worse. Until he develops a strong character, little of his surplus will remain for other uses.

A slave, on the other hand, never holds his earnings in his hands and therefore cannot spend them. All surplus is transferred to his or her owner. It was precisely this kind of surplus that made Rome rich.

But then Christian Europe came about. Prior to that, I cannot point to a single ancient culture that forbade the practice; it was seen as normal. So, for Europe to expel the slavery it inherited from Rome was a monumental change.

Europeans replaced slavery – slowly and because of their Christian principles, not because of a conscious plan – by doing these things:

  1. Developing personal thrift. This required a strong focus on building up virtues like temperance (self-control) and patience.
  2. Replacing the enforced surplus of slavery with profit. That is, by mixing creativity in with their commerce: innovating, inventing, and adapting to get more surplus out of commerce.

Under a new system that was eventually tagged capitalism, thrift and creativity generated surplus, and no human beings had to be enslaved.

A World Without Profit

On the other hand, we have recent examples of what happens when a culture forbids profit: the “socialist paradises” of Stalin’s USSR, Mao’s China, and the enslaved states of Eastern Europe. (Among others.)

These examples are bleak indeed, featuring the enslavement of everyone to a ruling party.

Profit provides an incentive to work, and when it is gone, not only does work suffer, but those who want to get ahead have no honest way to do it. And that drives them either to despair or to crime.

If you eliminate profit – innovative, rewarding commerce – you get slavery. The form of that slavery may vary from one case to another, but it will be slavery of some type.

This result is the same, by the way, whether the elimination of profit occurs via communism (make a profit, we shoot you) or fascism (all profit-making is taken over by friends of the state).

The core issue is surplus:

  • If surplus can be gathered by average people via honest means, slavery can be eliminated.
  • If average people are not allowed to create and hold their own surplus (surplus being skimmed off to the state and/or state partners), slavery of one sort or another will be the result.

Profit is simply a tool – a way of generating surplus without the enforced thrift of slavery.

You cannot get rid of both slavery and profit. You can eliminate whichever one you wish, but you’ll be stuck with the other.

Profit Rests on Virtues

To live in a civilization that prospers by profit, we need to move beyond gorilla-level instincts like envy. We need to develop self-control, patience, and a focus on more than just material possessions.

It’s a shame that the West has turned away from traditional virtues over recent centuries. If the Church that previously taught these virtues was found to be wanting, we should have replaced it with something better, rather than casting everything aside and pretending that virtues were nothing but superstition.

If we ever lose enough of our virtues, profit will lose its protections, and the ancient way of slavery will return.

What we do matters.

Paul Rosenberg

Could You Have Answered This Question?

servitudeSome years ago I found myself at dinner with a small group of people. We had a pleasant time, but soon enough, someone brought up my “weird” opinions. I explained that I was an advocate for freedom and opposed restrictions on it.

A spirited debate followed, of course, and at one point I said something about disliking servitude. In response, one of the people at the table – a medical professional – asked:

“What’s so bad about servitude?”

At first I was shocked, because I had never heard anyone say such a thing. I’m an American boy, after all, and I grew up surrounded by at least an implied demand for freedom.

But once past that, I realized I didn’t have an answer to the question. I had always taken it as a given that servitude was bad – not only from what I had heard and read, but from what I knew in my bones. I dug within myself for a serious response to the question, but I came up dry. I had no answer to give.

I continued the conversation as best I could, and perhaps I did some small amount of good. But, as I drove home, I realized that I had a problem. This man asked a simple and essential question, and I didn’t have an answer to it.

The Answer That Should Have Worked, But Didn’t

Needless to say, I did eventually come up with an obvious answer: Being in servitude means that other people control your life, and they can lead you into disaster at any time, purposefully or not.

I saw the man again not too long afterwards and brought up our initial conversation. I gave him my answer to that first question. His response?

“I’m doing okay.”

In other words, he didn’t care. Now that really bothered me.

By all outward appearances, he was in control and successful. But, aside from work-related activities, he avoided almost every subject I brought up. He didn’t want to explore any new thought, had no measurable curiosity, and was threatened by the very idea of freedom.


The answer, it turned out, was a simple one: This man liked the idea of other people running his life for him. That way, nothing would ever be his fault, and if things went badly, there would always be someone to blame.

No doubt you run into such people all the time – your friends, family and coworkers. To put it another way, my doctor friend didn’t really appreciate life itself. He grudgingly exerted himself in his medical trade, but wanted no further responsibility. He was happy to remain as minimally conscious as possible.

Now, I don’t want to pick on the fellow too much, but he makes a good example.

People have a tendency to hide behind masks. In this man’s case, the mask was “doctor.” There’s nothing wrong with being a doctor, of course, but to limit ourselves to a single role in life – even a good one – is a big mistake. We are vibrant, creative creatures by nature. You can see this in small children, who simply throw themselves into whatever subject interests them and expect to discover the truth of it. That’s our nature too, regardless of how badly it’s been beaten out of us over the years.

Freedom and Life

The feeling of zero restraint is exhilarating. And it’s wonderful to feel your natural preference to do good, separate from the fear of punishment. But even so, what’s really important about freedom is that it allows life to flourish.

In other words, freedom is a means, not an end.

It allows life to expand and to express itself. Again, the example of the child: He or she naturally wants to explore, to know, to see, to learn… to live, as opposed to merely existing.

Freedom allows life to operate. Servitude, on the other hand, limits life to narrow channels.

The truth is that people lose their love for liberty when they lose their love for life. For this man, following rules that others set made sense – it’s a safe position. But once there, he’ll never really grow again, and he will be cut off from a lifetime of discovery and satisfaction.

What’s bad about servitude is that it prevents us from living.

Bad News, Good News

The bad news you already know: To one extent or another, we’ve all let our love of life dim and have taken ‘safe’ positions. We live in a tough world after all.

The good news, however, is that we can regain what we’ve lost merely by changing our minds. As Earl Nightingale was famous for saying:

We become what we think about.

To repair ourselves requires that we think about these things – to notice when we begin playing a role, to act on curiosity when we feel it, to stop defending our previous choices, to expect surprises and opportunities.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Paul Rosenberg