Slavery, Secession, War, Reconstruction, Segregation

Slavery, Secession, War, Reconstruction, Segregation.

More than a month ago, I asked Brandon Christensen at Notes on Liberty a few questions:

What’s your take on the whole red states mooching off the blue states thing? I keep hearing this whenever the secession question comes up. Those few libs who don’t want to confiscate Texas from the Texans say “good riddance, you’re a tax burden anyways!”

It doesn’t quite fit into my version of the conventional wisdom for some reason. Are the blue states paying more than their “fair share” simply because they are underrepresented and thus the fault is the constitution, or is it because they already have large populations they naturally attract big businesses in spite of the fact they aren’t as friendly to free enterprise, and because of this there is more tax revenue to be collected? And then there’s the fact that some red states may in fact still be feeling the effects of being on the losing side of the Civil War (scorched earth warfare, unconditional surrender, reconstruction). These are the three possible explanations that fit with my way of thinking. Maybe its just that I’m cherry-picking “evidence” for a conclusion I’ve already arrived at.

Any thoughts?

He did eventually get around to responding, at length, and here’s one of the things he had to share:

I think the effects of the Civil War have long since ceased to be a factor in the South’s relative poverty, but the legacy of both slavery and Jim Crow laws still play an important role in the South’s underdevelopment.

What I think Brandon means here is that yes, the Civil War has had lasting, though indirect, impact on the economic underdevelopment of the South. Through Jim Crow. And also slavery.

But it seems to me (and I think Brandon was indicating this as well, but in a way that doesn’t wholesale reject the immediate negative impacts of war and Reconstruction) that slavery is a separate issue from the Civil War, in general; and in this specific case as well, because it likely would have had the same impact (that Brandon I think speaks of) regardless of who won the war, or whether there was even a war or not. So to say that slavery negatively affected the South’s economy, still felt to this day, has nothing to do with saying the Civil War caused economic problems back in the day. Slavery is impractical (not just immoral) in the long term, in and of itself. Just like taxes, subsidies, and war, all of which may have short term benefits. Or, as Brandon put it:

While slavery certainly helped the US become a world power in a relatively short period of time, the effects that the peculiar institution had on the economic, political and social life of Southerners are overwhelming. In short: very few people in the South got rich off of slavery, slavery retarded the social capacity of the Southerner, and while it helped to produce a number of world-class political theorists (for better or for worse) such quality was erased from Southern society after the Civil War.

So kudos to Brandon. There are a few things I would like to add or subtract, however. Take Jim Crow. Where did these laws come from? Well, if someone like Thomas DiLorenzo is to be believed (I think he is, though I don’t deny he’s on the fringe), Jim Crow, too, might be thought of independently of the Civil War because even states that peacefully freed their slaves had Jim Crow laws before and after the war. The fact that they repealed them sooner (than the South) to me indicates the relative potency of race political relations in the South (although today, I hear tell that whites and blacks are less uncomfortable around each other in the South than they are in the North, this is reminiscent of de Tocqueville, “the prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the States that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those States where servitude has never been known.”) due, not to slavery, but to the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Jim Crow arose not so much as a tool of racial oppression, but of practical yet cynical political control for the furthering the goals (which it would be a crime to say were mostly rooted in racial hatred) of the Democratic Party, just as Republicans had done in the opposite directions (those demagogues!) by “befriending” freed blacks and turning them against Southern whites (most of whom never owned slaves, and some of whom may have come from poverty and slavery themselves!). In other words, unfair as they were, without them, the Democrat’s in the South would have lost whatever foothold they had (not that we should necessarily pity them). As I said, Jim Crow didn’t last in the North as late as it did in the South. This was not because of white-on-black friendliness in the North (though equality certainly facilitated this in time), but because the dominant party in the North (GOP) had no practical use for such clearly backwards laws (unlike the dominant party in the South).

According to DiLorenzo, “If the Republican Party had not used the ex-slaves as political pawns in the South and turned them against whites, acts of violence against the ex-slaves and the institution of Jim Crow laws might never have happened.” But they did happen. Because slavery was not peacefully allowed to die (the contention being that the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment thinking in the South would eventually have had the same result it had had in the North), nor were economic and social integration of the races allowed to take their course after the war.

Brandon had also downplayed (and I think he is correct) the direct impact of war and Reconstruction on the South today. (I think the effects of the Civil War have long since ceased to be a factor in the South’s relative poverty…). But consider that they most certainly did have one in their own day; and thus the South would otherwise be more “developed” today than it is, had these things had no impact, or had they not occurred, irrespective of slavery or Jim Crow. I’m not saying the economy of the South is still reeling from war and Reconstruction, just that it is still reeling from the reeling from war and Reconstruction. It is the similar to what would happen if a loan had been made in 1865 (when race and political relations should have been normalized, though slowly through economic and social integration) rather than 1965 (when race relations started to benormalized, unfortunately in a shoddy and rough-hewn manner), and interest was collected on it today. Regardless of what has transpired since the beginning of the loan, or whether the interest owed has became more than the amount of the original loan, the principal is still an important consideration on its own.

Beyond just the Civil War, Brandon takes to task the assertion that red states are indeed parasites on the blue states:

[Blue] states don’t pay more than their fair share. That’s just a tired old hickory stick that partisans use to beat the other side over the head with. Check out these graphics in the Economist! A more in-depth answer would probably require us to look at state-level policies and then compare them with each other. At the state level, though, political parties look nothing like the national coalitions, so such an endeavor might not be able to tell us a whole lot. We might look at federal programs that don’t attract a lot of public attention, such as agriculture, to figure out why some states get more than their fair share and others don’t. The graphic provided by the Economist suggests this may be the case.

That makes all that was discussed hitherto more academic than I had previously thought. And as usual, there is a lot, a lot, more than meets the eye to the conventional (mis)understanding of things. I’m glad we tackled this one, though I doubt this or any number of other tired old hickory sticks will be put to rest anytime soon. There is too much at stake. Entire theories and reputations and even public policies would have to be reevaluated. Can’t have that, can we?

2 thoughts on “Slavery, Secession, War, Reconstruction, Segregation

    • You know, Brandon, it is the reevaluation of such things that Hobbes warned us about. Without the state to protect us and to clean up our every mess the way it sees best, to punish those too good for their own good, and to reward those too bad for their own good, the life of man would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Best we keep these things to ourselves.

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