It is a common criticism of capitalism, in places like college, to condemn capitalism for being pro-slavery. The argument is that slaves were traded on the market back and forth for the sake of earning profit. And so it was capitalism that was responsible for the evils of slavery.
The standard response that is usually given to this condemnation of capitalism is saying that slavery is in fact anti-capitalist. Because under capitalism the property of other people are respected as to their rightful owners. If one enslaves another then he claims all property, including the slave himself, as the property of the master. This is contrary to the principles behind capitalism and so slavery is not a trait of capitalism.
But I do not like this response so much. Because slavery can be completely compatible with capitalism. The way to do it is by saying that the slave class (whatever they happen to be, say blacks) is below the normal class. You say that blacks are inherently inferior to whites and so it is okay for whites to enslave the blacks. It is just like animals. Animals are not recognized by most people as on the equal level as people (unless PETA gets its way). So most people have no problem enslaving animals and making animals work for them. Thus, if one treats black people in such a manner by declaring them to be sub-human then it is possible to make capitalism and slavery consistent. The black is seen as above animal but below white man, so the black man is seen as a piece of property that is worth buying and selling. This was also the standard argument used by slave owners in support of slavery, they said that "all men are free" applies to men, not to blacks, because blacks are sub-human.
I therefore have a different response to this criticism of capitalism. Something that I consider to be much better.
Consider the miserable, pathetic and embarrassing history of men. I do not know exactly when slavery originated but I am quite sure it existed by 3000 BC. At this time people were forming rather large civilizations, and it was also the birth of the first states in history. I think it is reasonable to say that slavery begins by this time period. Because people for the vast period of history needed a slave class to do their work for them. I figure that once large civilizations and states began to form a slavery system became sustainable. So I put the figure of 3000 BC on slavery. It may be a lot earlier than it, it may all the way go back to hunter-gathers. It may slighter later. Regardless we know Egypt had slaves at about 1500 BC. So whatever the correct number is, slavery is an institution that is about between 4 to 5 thousand years old. If somebody is an expert on slave history then correct me, but this is the figure I will use.
During four to five thousand years slavery has existed. Capitalism is a modern concept. The early writings of capitalism essentially trace back to Adam Smith and the classical economists of the 1700's. The economic system that European nations practiced was mainly mercantalism, not capitalism. Smith actually wrote partially in opposition to mercantalism in favor of free trade. We should also remember that even further back in history there was a feudal system. Under feudalism people were fixated in their position in life. Each level in the hierarchy supported the next higher level above. And that was the way the world operated basically operated.
This is why I find the statement that capitalism is responsible for slavery as unconvincing. Because for a huge portion of history, say 4200 years, slavery was the standard practice found from country to country. Capitalism is at most, what?, 300 years old. This means that human history accompanied slavery under capitalism for about 7% of human history.
It does not make sense to say that capitalism was responsible for slavery when slavery existed under any system. Indeed, it is possible to make slavery compatible with any system by declaring that the slave class is simply sub-human. These socialists that attack capitalism on the slavery issue fail to realize that in a socialist country the same exact problem can still be present if the state declares a class of people to be slaves. Indeed, this is exactly what happened with Nazi Germany, if you want an example. Nazi Germany was a socialistic country that forced Jews and other groups of people into labor camps to do work for them. That is slavery and it happened under socialism. So other systems also are not immune to practicing slavery.
Therefore, the argument that capitalism was responsible for slavery is a false-cause fallacy. The fallacy arises because one confuses capitalism, a factor with slavery, as being the cause for slavery itself. Not to mention that this is a bad causation to draw from capitalism considering that it correlates with about 7% of all slave history.
My argument is that the opposite is true. It is not that capitalism causes slavery it is rather that capitalism ended slavery. Ever since capitalism appeared as an economic system something interesting begins to happen. Slavery becomes less and less practiced globally. Up to most history slavery was the common institution. Then capitalism becomes more accepted, and when that happens, slavery slowly begins to disappear. So I see capitalism as the liberator of slavery than the other way around as what other people suggest.
Now I know some people at this point will tell me that perhaps I am committing a false-cause argument myself. I saw that when capitalism started appearing more frequently slavery became less frequent, and then I concluded that capitalism helped end slavery. Perhaps, I am making a false-cause argument. Perhaps, it were really the abolitionist movement that started the move to end slavery.
It is true that people's morals were responsible for ending slavery. But if so why was it hardly ever done in past history? One can say that being anti-slavery was uncommon back then. It was uncommon but there were people against it at any time in history. Basically, what I am asking is why is it that the anti-slave mentality developed so late in history? This is the question that needs to be answered.
It was capitalism that made people more condemning of slavery. That is why the anti-slave movement started to develop in a world that was entering into a somewhat capitalist economy. I am not sure how correct I am on this, it is not something I see anyone else say, but it makes a lot of sense to me.
Capitalism made people move away from slavery economically. Once that happened people were able to distance themselves from slavery and condemn it. In the pre-capitalist world it was highly unlikely to get rid of slavery. There always was some sort of slave class or serf class that was at the bottom doing the hardest work. Thus, if there was an abolitionist in Egypt that said that slavery must be ended for it is wrong. They would ignore him. Because he was rebel, for he attacks the entire economic system.
People needed ways to continue to justify slavery in order to maintain the standard economic system that they had, which was largely based on slavery. So they could have not condemned slavery. But under capitalism everything started to change. Capitalism has brought nations to greater wealth and prosperity. In fact, free trade is more efficient than slavery. Because slavery is not free. The master has to sustain his slaves and cannot over work them. But their work is not even that great, since it is against their will. When compared to intelligent willing people trading with one another what they want, slavery is inefficient. And so slavery was being outdated.
Once people started be enter into a new economic system, that was better and more efficient, they were able to distance themselves from slavery and were free to condemn it as a practice. So it is in this way that I believe that capitalism was what eventually brought forth the end of slavery.