I’m not saying Republicans want the U.S. to legalize slave labor. I’m only saying that their agenda just happens to involve policies that will pave the way.
There is a way to introduce slavery into an economy gradually. It’s done through economic pressures and gradual changes of the law. In fact, it’s happened in America in the past. Everyone thinks about the evolution of our culture as having been in one direction: from a society that had slaves to a society that does not. But that’s not the case. The tobacco and sugar plantations of the old South didn’t always use slaves. Slavery developed gradually, over time, in response to evolving economic conditions.
In the early 1600’s, the colonies in and around Virginia relied heavily on growing tobacco for trade. The workers on the plantations were not slaves at this time. They were mainly poor, mainly white immigrants who had built up debt coming to America from Europe. They had made a deal: work the back-breaking work on the plantation for a period of time, and when your term is up, you are given some “freedom dues” (usually land, some seed and some guns) and sent on your way as a free man.
This economic arrangement began to break down over the next 60-80 years. Often these freed servants would start their own competing crops, which the plantation owners didn’t like. So plantation owners would increase the terms of the contract, hoping more workers would simply die before finishing their contract. They also removed land from the “freedom dues” gift package at the end of the contract, hoping to make it impossible for the newly freed men to start their own competing tobacco crops.
But still competition increased, and the tobacco growers thought to themselves: “What is the most pro-business solution to this problem?” The best option at the time, from the perspective of the balance sheet, was naturally to get workers from Africa.
Slavery was legalized by the late 1660’s, and ramped up very quickly after that. But it didn’t happen overnight. It certainly wasn’t the main way that tobacco fields were always worked in America. Instead, there were a series of incremental changes: devalue the work of the laborers, so that it takes more work to pay off the same debt, and make the conditions of the workers more and more dangerous and less and less desirable. Make sure that nothing gets in the way of allowing desperate people to sign contracts that put themselves forever in danger and forever in debt.
Could slavery come back to America again? Of course it could. Just as it did before, it would sneak in gradually through normal, every-day economic pressures. It would look like this:
First, companies start devaluing work (decreasing wages) so that it takes more and more work to pay off the equivalent amount of dues and debt.
Then, remove any regulation or legal restrictions on what kinds of contracts are allowed.
Find people who are completely desperate financially, so that even the room-and-board of slavery sounds appealing compared to the alternative. This is the argument that people will use to justify it: If a company wants to offer desperate people a contract that will let them pay off their debt after 20 years of hard physical labor, why not? It’s better then the person being unemployed, right?
The New American Slavery will not take the form of people going to a far off continent and capturing the natives. Instead it will look like this: reduce wages, reduce regulations, and reduce protections, until the workers effectively are slaves.
After that, the rest is just bookkeeping.