Did Capitalism and Oil End Slavery?

I was listening to my Audible course recommended by Jeremy, “The other side of History: The Daily Life In the Ancient World” about what life was like for average people in Rome.

The professor pointed out that not a single citizen in ancient Rome or Greece to our knowledge ever opposed slavery. None of the great philosophers or statesmen, nor any other person ever wrote that they opposed slavery. Why is this? Why would there have been no abolitionists amongst any of the great Greek or Roman philosophers and thinkers?

Modern day people forget about how much work it takes to stay alive. Nearly 80% of people up until a few hundred years ago spent their entire lives working in agriculture. The other crafts such as making clothes, building shelter, blacksmiths, toolmakers, barbers, and others would have consumed all the rest of human productivity. Most people would have lived in abject poverty with barely enough food and other materials to survive.

Without the innovation of capitalism, how were people motivated to work in the ancient world? Clearly the answer was through forced labor. Without capitalism, no one had much incentive to innovate – or if they did innovate they had no way to get their new idea out to the masses and their innovations probably died with them.

In today’s world, people don’t need to be forced to work hard and long hours. They are actually excited to do so in the hopes of improving their lot in our world. No one needs to get out a whip and chains to make me get up each day to work – I do so willingly. No one else is enslaved in American society either – even people in the lowest income brackets willingly get up each day and go to Walmart or wherever and do their jobs. There are no slavemasters who crucify those who disobey like there were in the Roman world. You may jokingly call your boss a slavemaster but your boss does not have the right to beat, rape, torture, or murder you for not working hard enough.

Another major factor is oil. In today’s modern world, less than 1.5% of people work in agriculture. How did we move 78% of humanity out of farming? Through the innovations brought by capitalism, and the energy to power those innovations brought by oil.

Remember – all work requires units of energy called “calories”. The average human typically consumes 2,000 calories a day or a bit more depending on their physical activity. A single gallon of oil has 35,000 calories – and this energy can be released very quickly. Large scale farming equipment can burn this in minutes, and do the work that it used to take dozens or hundreds of people to do.

The Soviet Union also had oil, but it’s people lived in horrifying poverty because they lacked capitalism. No one was motivated to work, so no one did. The only workable systems for motivating humans mankind has found so far are either forced labor or capitalism.

I think people who oppose capitalism should suggest an alternative system of motivation for humans at a scale beyond just a few people… I don’t think I’ve seen one that works.

Capitalism and oil freed humanity from slavery.

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Joel Gross

Joel Gross is the CEO of Coalition Technologies.

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