Adonis Diaries

Archive for January 3rd, 2021

How Slavery Led to Modern Capitalism?

Any direct connections between slavery and capitalism?

Posted on February 25, 2012

A slave being auctioned, 1861

A slave being auctioned, 1861. Source: Sketch by Thomas R. Davis, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The story told about slavery is that it is almost always regional.  Wrong. It is an inherent US national story.

The story goes that slavery was a cruel institution of the southern States that would later secede from the Union. Slavery, in this telling, appears limited in scope, an unfortunate detour on the nation’s march to modernity, and certainly not the engine of American economic prosperity.  That’s a very funny story.

For example:

“New York City banker James Brown tallied his wealth of $1.5 million in 1842. Brown investments in the American South exceeded a quarter of his wealth, which was directly bound up in the ownership of slave plantations.  Brown was among the world’s most powerful dealers in raw cotton, and his family’s firm, Brown Brothers & Co., served as one of the most important sources of capital and foreign exchange to the U.S. economy.   Most of James’ time was devoted to managing slaves from the study of his Leonard Street brownstone in Lower Manhattan.

Nicholas Biddle’s United States Bank of Philadelphia funded banks in Mississippi to promote the expansion of plantation lands. Biddle recognized that slave-grown cotton was the only thing made in the U.S. that had the capacity to bring gold and silver into the vaults of the nation’s banks.

The same facts were recognized by the architects of New England‘s industrial revolution watched the price of cotton with rapt attention, for their textile mills would have been silent without the labor of slaves on distant plantations.

Consider the history of an antebellum Alabama dry-goods outfit called Lehman Brothers or a Rhode Island textile manufacturer that would become the antecedent firm of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.”

The story goes that the civil war was to abolishing slavery in the southern States.  That a lie and big smokescreen to reality.  

The northern modern capitalists, specially those born in the 1840’s and made their fortune building railways, telegraph, and media…wanted to keep controlling the southern gold goose: Cotton production transformed into gold by export, and worked by the black slaves.

The southern elite class of “nobility” wanted the gold to be kept in the south and not be controlled by the new northern capitalists class.

After the war, the north wanted gold to be the currency, and the south wanted the “Green-buck” paper currency as the national money because they had no gold anymore.

Gold or Green-buck, it didn’t matter to the north: the money presses were in the north anyway.  And slavery remained in the south, and was transferred in the north to making hats, shoes, hoes

The enterprises transformed slave-grown cotton into clothing; market other manufactured goods to plantation owner.  Or invest in securities tied to next year’s crop prices in places such as Liverpool and Le Havre….

America’s “take-off” in the 19th century wasn’t in spite of slavery; it was largely thanks to it.

And recent research in economic history goes further: It highlights the role that commodified human beings played in the emergence of modern capitalism itself.

Such revelations are hardly surprising in light of slavery’s role in spurring the nation’s economic development.

The U.S. won its independence from Britain just as it was becoming possible to imagine a liberal alternative to the mercantilist policies of the colonial era.

Those best situated to take advantage of these new opportunities — soon to be called “capitalists” — rarely started from scratch, but instead drew on wealth generated earlier in the robust Atlantic economy of slaves, sugar and tobacco.

Fathers who made their fortunes outfitting ships for distant voyages begat sons who built factories, chartered banks, incorporated canal and railroad enterprises, invested in government securities, and speculated in new financial instruments.

This recognizably modern capitalist economy was no less reliant on slavery than the mercantilist economy of the preceding century. Rather, it offered a wider range of opportunities to profit from the remote labor of slaves, especially as cotton emerged as the indispensable commodity of the age of industry.

This network linked Mississippi planters and Massachusetts manufacturers to the era’s great financial firms: the Barings, Browns and Rothschilds.

“A major financial crisis in 1837 revealed the interdependence of cotton planters, manufacturers and investors, and their collective dependence on the labor of slaves.

Leveraged cotton — pledged but not yet picked — led overseers to whip their slaves to pick more, and prodded auctioneers to liquidate slave families to cover the debts of the overextended.

The plantation didn’t just produce the commodities that fueled the broader economy, it also generated innovative business practices that would come to typify modern management.

As some of the most heavily capitalized enterprises in antebellum America, plantations offered early examples of time-motion studies and regimentation through clocks and bells.

Seeking ever-greater efficiencies in cotton picking, slaveholders reorganized their fields, regimented the workday, and implemented a system of vertical reporting that made overseers into managers answerable to those above for the labor of those below”.

Capitalists reworked the accounting methods: labor force was incorporated in human property depreciation in the bottom line as slaves aged, as well as new actuarial techniques to indemnify slaveholders from loss or damage to the men and women they owned.

Property rights in human beings also created a lengthy set of judicial opinions that would influence the broader sanctity of private property in U.S. law.

As scholars delve deeper into corporate archives and think more critically about coerced labor and capitalism, (perhaps informed by the current scale of human trafficking) the importance of slavery to American economic history will become inescapable.

Reparations lawsuits (since dismissed) generated evidence of slave insurance policies by Aetna and put Brown University and other elite educational institutions on notice that the slave-trade enterprises of their early benefactors were potential legal liabilities.

Recent State and municipal disclosure ordinances have forced firms such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wachovia Corp. to confront unsettling ancestors on their corporate family trees.

Note: Post inspired by the article of Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, historians at Harvard University and Brown University respectively.  They are  co-editing “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development,”

To contact the writers of this post: Sven Beckert at beckert@fas.harvard.edu and Seth Rockman at Seth_Rockman@brown.edu.

Listening to an album from start to finish? As if all the songs must be connected to deliver a story?

Many times, I just share articles to readers who might have different interests and tastes.

By RANDALL ROBERTS STAFF WRITER of Los Angeles Times. MARCH 17, 2020

What’s your favorite album? When was the last time you actually listened to it from start to finish? With intention, like you were watching a movie or reading a novel?

Clear your schedule for the next 3 hours. (Is that a new Yoga technique?)

Choose three full albums, whether from your collection or your streaming service of choice.

Put them in an ordered queue as though you were programming a triple feature (series?)

Because:

1) Musicians spend years making their albums. They struggle over syllables, melodies, bridges and rhythms with the same intensity with which you compare notes on the “Forensic Files” reboot, loot corpses in “Fortnite” or pound Cabernet during pandemics.

(L-R)- Photographs of Paul Simon, Nina Simone, Kacey Musgraves, and Sly Stone in a quadriptych to illustrate "38 life-affirming albums to get you though self-quarantine." Credit (L-R): Jim Dyson/Getty Images; Getty Images; Michael Nagle/For The Times; Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

MUSIC. 35 life-affirming albums to help get you through self-quarantine, according to music experts

But most of us are “half-assed” (Meaning disinterested?) when it comes to listening to albums. We put on artists’ work while we’re scrolling through Twitter, disinfecting door knobs, obsessively washing our hands or romancing lovers permitted within our COVID-free zones.

We rip our favorite tracks from their natural long-player habitat, drop them into playlists and forget the other songs, despite their being sequenced to be heard in order.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There was a time when listeners treated the mere existence of recorded sound as a miracle. A wonder, a kind of time travel. Priests warned of early wax cylinders being tools of the devil. Vintage images from the space age show couples seated around their high-fidelity systems as if being warmed by a fireplace.

The late experimental composer and teacher Pauline Oliveros coined the phrase “deep listening” for just this practice. Defining it as a kind of “Radical attentiveness: I differentiate to hear and to listen. To hear is the physical means that enables perception. To listen is to give attention to what is perceived both acoustically and psychologically.”

A Stravinsky ballet caused a riot. The least you can do is commit to deeply listening to three full albums.

Visitors listen to music at the Los Angeles Public Library in this undated photo.

(Yalla) go dig a ditch in your backyard, put your phone in a Ziplock bag and bury it. Get comfortable on the couch, centered in the sweet spot between the speakers. No stereo system? Put on your headphones (pro-tip: Audio-Technica has become the recording studio standard) or earbuds, or lock yourself in a closet with your best bluetooth speaker. Whatever works.

Stoners will probably tell you to consume an edible an hour prior. Scotch is wonderful. (LSD is illegal.) None of it is necessary. Mindfulness is essential. Light a candle or not. Doesn’t matter, but dimmed light will change the environment for the better. (I would suggest total darkness: cosy in a tomb)

Don’t turn the volume up to 11. Set it at 8.5 and then make a pact with the voices in your head to shut the front door.

The point is to listen with your ears in the same way you read with your eyes, to absorb the flavor as you would velveteen swig of Cabernet washing over your taste buds.https://www.youtube.com/embed/3zUDcdH3OI4?feature=oembed

In 2006, the Staten Island rapper Ghostface Killah, best known as a founding member of Wu-Tang Clan, issued his fifth studio album. It’s about wine’s evil cousin, cocaine. Called “Fishscale,” the album is an hourlong, Tarantino-style action-adventure film, and one of three albums I programmed for a recent night with music.

A conceptually linked, drug-slinging series of vivid, F-bomb-dropping narratives set in the Wu-Tang cinematic universe, “Fishscale” stars Ghostface under his Tony Starks pseudonym.

Unlike the rapper’s previous albums, though, for this one he stepped away from Wu-Tang producer RZA in favor of productions by legends including J Dilla, MF Doom and Pete Rock. The move broadens the landscape.

Gmac Cash - "Coronavirus" video

MUSIC. Pandemic pop: At home and around the world, dark-humored new songs about coronavirus go viral

Snobs will tell you that you’ll need a belt-drive turntable connected to a tube amp driving a pair of Klipsch speakers, and that the only way to truly appreciate something like “Fishscale” is to listen to the Japanese vinyl pressing or something. That’s not the point here.

Straight talk: Compact discs from the 1990s and ‘00s sound fantastic. And in a blind test you likely wouldn’t be able to distinguish between a 320k Spotify stream and a 2006 pressing of “Fishscale.”

As a writer, Ghostface is unparalleled. His love of wordplay, his urgent delivery and frantic phrasing move across bars with the singsong freedom of five-minute John Coltrane solos.

After a cuss-heavy intro, “Fishscale” commences with “Shakey Dog,” a cinematic punch akin to a car chase opening an action movie. We’re with Starks on the way to a robbery. He’s in the backseat eating fish and dipping French fries into ketchup. He drops tartar sauce on his shoe, a portent that the advancing plot might not go as planned. By the end of the song, nearly a dozen people are dead and a bullet has grazed our hero’s ear.

Across “Fishscale,” the rapper’s verses are dense with wordplay and references: cheeba weed brownies, “Sanford and Son,” fried plantains and rice, centipede stab wounds, Pyrex scholars and extract oil cut from Cuban plants.

He raps of professors at war and terry-cloth Guess shorts; of a lover, whose “voice was a slow jam, full length white mink,” who seduced him in a room scored by Barry White slow jams and with cigarette smoke that “floated when it left her throat — spelled ‘Honey’.”

As with every work of art, “Fishscale” is a portal, in its case into a space dense with action, urgency and invective. Yes, you are still sitting on the couch, but you’re also wandering in isolation through the fabric of someone else’s musical universe.

If “Fishscale” is a thriller, Aimee Mann’s 2017 album, “Mental Illness,” is an expert series of vignettes whose characters are dealing with isolation and social distancing, even if it’s not due to COVID-19. “Mental Illness” is about as far removed from “Fishscale” as “Twin Peaks” is from the “Fast & Furious” franchise.https://www.youtube.com/embed/fhThS-PJOFE?feature=oembed

The Los Angeles-based Mann is one of the city’s most eloquent songwriters, and for this insular record producer Paul Bryan and she convey a sense of gentle effortlessness. Strum-propelled waltzes augmented with subtle string arrangements (“Stuck in the Past”) ease into songs about abyss-leaning narrators. “Three thousand miles to sit in a room with a vanishing groom,” she sings on “You Never Loved Me,” a song about someone who gets ghosted after traveling to meet a fiancé.

And then there’s “Patient Zero.” A song written long before sheltering in place became standard, its opening verse reads like a portent: “They served you champagne like a hero / When you landed someone carried your bag / From here on out you’re patient zero / Smelling ether as they hand you the rag.”

Turn the volume up to 9 as Bryan’s arrangement builds. Measure by measure, he and Mann add texture: a gentle tambourine, plucked-string accents, a precisely placed kick-drum. Organized noise, made by experts in their field and recorded when the virus lay dormant in some god-forsaken bat’s innards, but resonating anew.

“Life is good / You look around and think / I’m in the right neighborhood,” Mann sings as she seizes the narrative. “But honey you just moved in,” she adds, as if predicting catastrophe. “Life is grand — and wouldn’t you like to have it go as planned?”

If it had gone as planned, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. But we are stuck inside. We don’t know for how long. There are no sports. You have been scrolling through the Netflix page for an hour now.

Give up. Let go. Things may be falling apart, but there’s still music.

On their epic 2011 double CD, “RE: ECM,” the experimental electronic producers Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer were given the keys to the vault of the lauded jazz and contemporary classical label ECM Records.https://www.youtube.com/embed/_mKa98J3HlY?feature=oembed

Onetime home to artists including Arvo Pärt, Keith Jarrett, Meredith Monk, Jan Garbarek and dozens more, ECM possesses a catalog of master recordings that contains millions of musical tones: rhythms, wails, bass hums, snare snaps, cymbal sizzles and synthetic boops and warbles.

Villalobos and Loderbauer built an abstract masterpiece from these measures. A haunting, minimal tapestry of acoustically created tones and voices that the pair then electronically recontextualized, each of the work’s 17 pieces draws from specific ECM works.

Rensenada,” for example, uses as source material jazz multi-instrumentalist and Miles Davis collaborator Bennie Maupin’s classic 1974 album “The Jewel in the Lotus.” Among the players on the recording: Herbie Hancock on electric piano, bassist Buster Williams and a trio of percussionists including Billy Hart.

“Rekondakion’s” source material is a sacred chorale by Estonian composer Pärt. Inhabiting it at full volume can be an overwhelming experience. Pärt composed the piece for the 750th anniversary of the Cologne Cathedral, but to hear it reworked by Villalobos and Loderbauer — to absorb it minus distraction, moment by measureless moment — is to be transported to a place immune to anything nature can throw at us.

Surviving precariously, but world community seeking to save them from oblivion

At the current rate of modernization and deforestation, most of the aboriginal tribes would disappear within a few decades.

The European nations woke up and re-considered the inclusion of their ethnic minorities in their political and economic systems, as an integral factor of their identity.

For example the ethnic Saamis (Norway and Finland), Inuits (Siberia, Alaska, and Canada), Ainous (Japan), Indians (USA and Canada)

Australia even changed its anthem recently, and dropped the notion of young Australia, in order to include its aboriginal tribes as part of the identity of Australia. For example the Aborigines (Australia), Maoris (New Zealand), Papous (New Guinea).

Canada is doing its best to restitute the legal rights for tribes robbed of their lands and allowing them enough autonomy to manage their lands.

“Indian tribes” in the US and Canada have dual citizenship and are allocated privileged rights.

Many civilizations have vanished but a few have managed to survive precariously so far. 

Currently we still have the ethnic minorities in South and central America:

Zapotec (Mexico), Mosquitos (Nicaragua), Quiches (Guatemala), Cunas (Panama), Yanomamis and Guaranis (Brazil), Galibis and Akawaios (Guyana), Paez and Guambianos (Colombia), Waoranis (Equator), Amueshas (Peru), Chimanes (Bolivia), Araucans (Chili).

The ethnic minorities in Africa:

Touaregs and Bororos (Sahel in Northern Africa), Tigres (Ethiopia and Somalia), Dinkas (Sudan), Masais (Kenya and Tanzania), Pygmees (Zaire), Sans or Bushmen (Namibia and Botswana),

The ethnic minorities in Asia:

Kalingas (Philippines), Kachins and Rohingyas (Myanmar or Birmani), Hmongs (Laos), Santals and Gonds (India), Punans (Malaysia), Uzbeks and Tajiks (Afghanistan),


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