Abolition of Slavery Mark II

What if we as a nation were discussing whether to abolish slavery, rather than to cap bankers’ bonuses? “If we criminalise slavery, our labour costs will go up and our competitors will crush us,” might be a common view. Another would be “We can’t afford to stop slavery until every other country does the same.”

It’s quite shaming that the abolitionists overcame these arguments from the late 18th century onwards. Could it be that we need a modern equivalent to the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which was founded in England in May 1789? The society had 12 members – nine Quakers and three Anglicans – who were soon joined by Josiah Wedgwood. William Wilberforce MP represented them in Parliament.

We know what a long road it was to abolish slavery in the UK, decades of campaigning. The spectre of slavery retreated somewhat, especially in those economically favoured states temporarily enriched by the exploitation of natural resources, but the quest for power and money never disappears. The 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had separated retail from investment banking in the super-power USA, gave a jet propelled boost to the unethical pursuit of colossal wealth by certain financiers, no matter who they destroyed on the way.

There used to be international trade in slaves, now there are instant and vast global flows of digital money, most of it conjured out of thin air and converted into real assets like mansions, islands, sporting estates and antiquities, by those who convince other power-holders that they have the Midas touch and deserve millions of £s just for doing their jobs.

I would much rather see farm workers and small farm businesses properly rewarded for their work, which keeps us from starvation. I’ve still to work out what investment bankers are supposed to do for us, rather than for themselves, let alone why it should be thought normal for them to receive yearly incomes exceeding £1 million, some 40 times the typical wage for a full-time job here in the UK. The theory that wealth ‘trickles down’ is pretty much discredited, because we can see that the opposite happens, wealth nodes are magnets, and the bigger the magnet, the greater the force field around it.

Privileging finance and financiers above all notions of fairness, fairness to our planet as well as to us, has led us to mass youth unemployment, and to chronic unemployment across the age range in Mediterranean countries like Spain and Greece. Everywhere the urban unemployed in formerly prosperous states, people with no money and no land and singled out for cuts in welfare payments, are in danger of sinking back into a form of slavery.  Social evils are never eradicated for good. They re-emerge in different disguises, and greedy banker syndrome is just the latest. We don’t appear to have learnt much about fairness in the 223 years since 1789.


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