Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The 1619 Project

From the opening:
"The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are."
I don't love the navigation layout wherein stories interrupt other stories so you have to remember to go back to read that:

And, when I click on "Read More," nothing happens! And then you have to find the beginning of it all again to read other essays, which takes ages to load on my old mac. Why not one title page with links appearing at the very beginning of it all and again at the end of each article? It's probably just me, so anyway...

Here's a bit from the first article I was able to access:  Matthew Desmond's "In order to understand the brutality of American capitalism, you have to start on the plantation." It was an excellent read, starting with the various types of capitalism that we could choose to have.
"In a capitalist society that goes low, wages are depressed as businesses compete over the price, not the quality, of goods; so-called unskilled workers are typically incentivized through punishments, not promotions; inequality reigns and poverty spreads. In the United States, the richest 1 percent of Americans own 40 percent of the country’s wealth, while a larger share of working-age people (18-65) live in poverty than in any other nation belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.). . . . Recently, historians have pointed persuasively to the gnatty fields of Georgia and Alabama, to the cotton houses and slave auction blocks, as the birthplace of America’s low-road approach to capitalism. . . . The combined value of enslaved people exceeded that of all the railroads and factories in the nation. . . . What made the cotton economy boom in the United States, and not in all the other far-flung parts of the world with climates and soil suitable to the crop, was our nation’s unflinching willingness to use violence on nonwhite people and to exert its will on seemingly endless supplies of land and labor. Given the choice between modernity and barbarism, prosperity and poverty, lawfulness and cruelty, democracy and totalitarianism, America chose all of the above. . . .

Slavery did supplement white workers with what W.E.B. Du Bois called a “public and psychological wage,” which allowed them to roam freely and feel a sense of entitlement. But this, too, served the interests of money. Slavery pulled down all workers’ wages. Both in the cities and countryside, employers had access to a large and flexible labor pool made up of enslaved and free people. Just as in today’s gig economy, day laborers during slavery’s reign often lived under conditions of scarcity and uncertainty, and jobs meant to be worked for a few months were worked for lifetimes. Labor power had little chance when the bosses could choose between buying people, renting them, contracting indentured servants, taking on apprentices or hiring children and prisoners. . . . In recent decades, America has experienced the financialization of its economy. In 1980, Congress repealed regulations that had been in place since the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, allowing banks to merge and charge their customers higher interest rates. Since then, increasingly profits have accrued not by trading and producing goods and services but through financial instruments. Between 1980 and 2008, more than $6.6 trillion was transferred to financial firms. After witnessing the successes and excesses of Wall Street, even nonfinancial companies began finding ways to make money from financial products and activities. Ever wonder why every major retail store, hotel chain and airline wants to sell you a credit card? This financial turn has trickled down into our everyday lives: It’s there in our pensions, home mortgages, lines of credit and college-savings portfolios. Americans with some means now act like “enterprising subjects,” in the words of the political scientist Robert Aitken. . . . 
Some historians have claimed that the British abolition of the slave trade was a turning point in modernity, marked by the development of a new kind of moral consciousness when people began considering the suffering of others thousands of miles away. But perhaps all that changed was a growing need to scrub the blood of enslaved workers off American dollars, British pounds and French francs, a need that Western financial markets fast found a way to satisfy through the global trade in bank bonds. Here was a means to profit from slavery without getting your hands dirty."


The Mound of Sound said...

You might enjoy Nancy Isenberg's "White Trash." The Louisiana State prof explores how, before the slave trade, well to do Americans used the next best thing, convicts, indentured servants, etc. consigned into a form of quasi-slavery as their cheap labour.

When African slaves appeared they displaced the white trash from their only employment. Many of these impoverished but powerless whites had to "take to the hills." They migrated westward into what had been Indian country. The trash cleared land, built farms, established villages only to see their former employers muscle them out and take their lands.

Isenberg traces how these people, the hardscrabble sort, were kept poor and marginalized across the Bible Belt until they found a voice and power through movements such as the Tea Party.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, Mound. I'll check that out!