A Shocking Discovery in a Monastery Library
While doing research in the Aedificium of the Kloster Eberbach, I came across the following fascinating manuscript, apparently written by a monk named Abbius Praetorium, and presenting an early argument for the legitimacy of the African slave trade. I present these arguments, by the way, not to endorse them, but to show the depths to which the moral imagination may sink when it is weighed down by the shackles of a false world view:
It is with the high costs of finding labor in mind, and the knowledge that there are thousands of farmers that would like to expand their labor force but cannot (if you will, a shortage in workers), that I’d like to make a suggestion.
African chiefs should be allowed to sell the lordship rights to their tribesmen, or to those they have captured in war.
Stick with me here. I am not advocating human trafficking or the idea of kidnapping Africans in order to sell them to desperate farmers. What I am suggesting is a general deregulation of the market for labor. Allow African chiefs to enter into contracts with willing farmers for the rights to work Africans for profit.
Before unleashing your moral outrage at the idea of "selling human beings," consider the potential for very significant, very positive outcomes for all parties involved. Allowing African chiefs to profit from such sales fundamentally changes the costs and benefits of a variety of transactions. They include:
- The "labor shortage" will diminish or be eliminated as chiefs enter the market to sell the rights to work their tribesmen. The "supply" of tribesmen to be purchased is more likely to meet current demand.
- Chiefs will experience greater wealth as they may profit from the sale of their sovereignty rights.
- There will be fewer executions in Africa. As chiefs experiencing troublesome tribesmen look at their options, the potential for financial gain means fewer chiefs are likely to execute.
- The health of Africans will improve. Since healthy Africans are likely to command a higher purchase price than ill ones, chiefs would face strong incentives to improve the health of their tribesmen.
- Africans themselves are likely to be better off: who wouldn't want to be moved from a tribe, where their presence is a cause of consternation, to a farm community, where they will be loved and wanted?
- Tribesmen abuse would decline. The current system incentivizes chiefs to keep their tribesmen, rather than give them up, even if they find them a royal pain in the butt.
- The above argument especially applies to prisoners of war. African chiefs now often have no choice but to kill those prisoners. But, if there is a market for them, they won't need to be killed. Anyone in favor of less slaughter of prisoners of war ought to be for a market in Africans.
- The price of labor will fall. Since hiring free workers and buying Africans are what economists call "substitute goods," or goods that can be used for the same purpose, an increase in Africans for sale would decrease the demand for free labor. As demand falls, wages would fall as well, and farmers will prosper, meaning cheaper food for everyone.
But, of course, we children of the Enlightenment are much better people than the barbarians of a few centuries back, and would never endorse buying and selling human beings. I only share the above to show how far we have advanced since those dark times.