Why Do Slaves Cost Money?
By Bryan Caplan
I’m currently revising my notes for labor economics. Main change: I’m cutting the week on slavery to add a full week on immigration. It’s a tough choice because I’m so fond of my slavery lectures. But on reflection, the topic of immigration is simply more important in today’s world. Indeed, I have come to see immigration as the most important issue on earth.
Parts of my slavery notes are being moved to my lectures on human capital. But cuts must be made. My favorite section that I’m leaving on the cutting room floor: “why do slaves have a positive price?” Full treatment:
IV. Why Do Slaves Have a Positive Price?
A. In many slave systems, free workers and slaves sometimes did the same kind of work, and slaves could be “rented.”
B. The rental rates for slaves and the day rates for free laborers were comparable. On the plus side, slaves could be worked harder, but on the minus side, they had to be monitored more.
C. In other words, a free worker and a slave-owner earned about the same income for one worker’s labor. Free and slave labor competed in the same market.
D. What does this show? That free workers have always earned more than subsistence!
E. Slaves have a positive price because the owner gets to keep the difference between the competitive market wage and the cost of upkeep.
P.S. While the slavery notes are leaving my labor econ syllabus, I’ll keep them at the bottom of the labor econ webpage as a bonus lecture.