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The End of Slavery


in Response to The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs

The answer is inherent in the question. How you phrase the question determines the answer. Jeffrey Sachs' book, The End of Poverty, defines the problem, as he sees it, in the title. Poverty is the condition of being poor, and derives from pauper, defined as an impoverished person, a beggar, one who gets little.1 It's up to the developed world to give impoverished people the means to bring themselves out of poverty through economic development. We should do this, not just out of generosity or morality, but also because it will create a world in which more is available to many, and which will be better for us in the long run.

In this essay, I would like to redefine the problem, and show that the world Jeffrey Sachs envisions is impossible – not because it's too ambitious, but because it's not ambitious enough. Slavery is the denial of freedom to use your labor to meet your own needs. There are two ways to make a slave – one is to take a people away from their land, and the other is to take their land away from a people. No one can produce out of thin air – it requires both labor and resources - land, water, minerals and energy. Without resources, a person is a slave to their own stomach, required to sell the only things they have – their labor, their bodies or their children – for the right to eat.

Access to the products of labor, through money, isn't a natural or "God-given" right. How could it be? Money is man-made, as are material products. "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's." But the right to the product of your own labor, through access to resources, might be a natural or God-given right. If this were so, the problem wouldn't be that those without money are lacking; it would be that those of us with money are taking what we have no right to – the product of someone else's labor. We're participating in the conspiracy to defraud humanity of its most fundamental right with every transaction, when we recognize the usurpers of the world's resources as the rightful owners. The blind eye we turn to land-rights and water-rights, as if they don't concern us, buys us the ability to consume without the labor of producing. Since the top 20% of the world's economy consumes 86% of the products of labor and resources, it requires the labor of four people who have no right to the products of their labor to support each of us who are consumers.

Look at Jeffrey Sachs' information, and then analyze it "as if" equal access to resources is a God-given right. There are many disturbing questions raised by this premise, like what it would mean for us. But black slavery in the United States would never have ended if the first requirement was a plan acceptable to the whites. The first question is whether it's right or wrong – a tolerable social situation, with a little reform, or absolutely intolerable for a moral society. For a handful of people, it wasn't enough to improve the conditions of slaves. These few, and their conviction that it was wrong, proved irrefutable in the course of history, despite the price in blood. There are ways, I think, that we could end global slavery without blood or without sacrifice of what we need, or even of what makes us happy. But first we need the conviction that it's wrong, no matter what it means for us. The soul is a solitary cell, which each person enters alone. Walk in now, and weigh the evidence in your own heart. When you walk back out, one way or the other, you'll be free. And freeing yourself is the first step to ending slavery.

1 Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, p.766.