In his magisterial work, The Half Has Never Been Told, Cornell historian Edward A. Baptist makes an overwhelmingly convincing argument that the growth of the economy of the United States until 1865 is essentially the growth of technology1 for the efficient extraction of money from dark-skinned bodies.
It’s trivial to extrapolate his arguments past the end of slavery, through the Jim Crow system which supported the South’s cotton economy until the 1960s and beyond, and into the present day. The modern death-star economy of the United States, Baptist shows, was built with the labor of black bodies and fertilized with black blood. The white real-estate zillionaires who make up the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, therefore, would have none of their wealth, none of their resources, if it weren’t for the torture and murder of black people which nourished the roots of American capital over the last half millenium.
According to Baptist:
Thus enslavers extracted a massive rise in cotton productivity from the 1790s to 1860. While planter-entrepreneurs did not publish their method for making cotton-picking as efficient as possible in a textbook or an agricultural journal, they created practices, attitudes, and material goods—whips, slates, pens, paper, and the cotton plant itself—that made up the method’s interlocking cogs. White overseers also played an important role, and not just as the ones who often put this system of violent labor rationalization into hour-by-hour practice. They probably invented many of the practices of accounting and torture as they carried their slates and bullwhips ever west and south.2
And it’s not all in the past.
The HPOA and its sister BIDs have perpetuated, refined, and privatized a modern version of the slave empire, a horrific machine for grinding up the lives of (mostly non-white) homeless people and squeezing money out of the pulp. The BID patrols, naturally, play the role of the white overseers. Not only do they put the BID’s technologies into “hour-by-hour” practice on the streets of Hollywood, but “they probably invented many of the practices of accounting and torture” used to turn the destruction of non-white lives into cash money (see here and here for two examples).
And where’s the money? Well, the HPOA spends $1.5 million per year on arresting homeless people. That money isn’t wasted, though, it’s paid out as salaries and used to buy the tools “of accounting and torture.” It doesn’t stop there, though. Each arrestee, at the cost of around $1,500 to the HPOA, provides salaries for LAPD officers who take the person into custody, LASD deputies who incarcerate the victim, prosecutors, judges, public defenders, social workers, even law professors, all get their cut of meat. The multiplier effect is surely higher here than the paltry 1.75 that’s usually seen from direct government spending.
And all these jobs, created and sustained by the arrest of the homeless for meaningless, not-really-illegal acts, mean that the BID patrols are never going away. At this point, their work feeds too much of this city’s economic engine. They arrest 1,000 people per year in the two HPOA BIDs, and many times that city-wide. If they stopped, Los Angeles would certainly plunge into economic depression. Imagine the ravening hoards of attorneys stumbling around looking for petty criminals to feast upon. Oh, wait! You don’t have to imagine it, just go down to the county courthouse and watch the cannibals at work.
All that money, created out of nothing but the poor broken lives and bodies of the (mostly) non-white homeless. Truly, the creative powers of capitalism are a marvel! Too bad about the destroyed lives, though, but, as Albert Einstein (or was it Martin Heidegger?) once said, Kapitalismus kapitalisiert.3
As is often the case, Karl Marx had this figured out a long, long time ago:
A philosopher produces ideas, a poet poems, a clergyman sermons, a professor compendia and so on. A criminal produces crimes. If we look a little closer at the connection between this latter branch of production and society as a whole, we shall rid ourselves of many prejudices. The criminal produces not only crimes but also criminal law, and with this also the professor who gives lectures on criminal law and in addition to this the inevitable compendium in which this same professor throws his lectures onto the general market as “commodities. This brings with it augmentation of national wealth… The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal justice, constables, judges, hangmen, juries, etc.; and all these different lines of business, which form equally many categories of the social division of labour, develop different capacities of the human spirit, create new needs and new ways of satisfying them. Torture alone has given rise to the most ingenious mechanical inventions, and employed many honourable craftsmen in the production of its instruments.4
- You might not think that forms of labor organization count as technology, but oh, they do indeed. This is widely accepted in the case of, e.g. noted racist Henry Ford’s innovations in the assembly of automobiles and the time-motion studies of Fredrick Winslow Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. Somehow, though, when it comes to the organization of slave labor through increasingly efficient means of torture and accounting, Americans’ perceptions are not so clear. Baptist corrects this error with overwhelming force of argument.
- Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told, Basic Books, 2014, New York, p.135.
- SPOILER ALERT: It was neither of these. In fact, the sayer of this saying was none other than us-alls here at MK.org!
- Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, §11 Apologist Conception of the Productivity of All Professions, 1863.
Image of slave control technology is due to Thomas Branagan, The Penitential Tyrant; or, slave trader reformed (New York, 1807), p. 271. ( Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-31864) as shown on www.slaveryimages.org, compiled by Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite, and sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library. Still from Night of the Living Dead is evidently in the public domain because of some copyright voodoo we don’t pretend to understand, but the copyright anoraks at Wikimedia do pretend to understand it. Image of Karl Marx is in the public domain and we got it from the Wikimedia Foundation.