In Smithian economics, human freedom means the capacity to sell one’s labor. In fact, the difference between slave labor and free labor was precisely that slaves did not own their labor, but were owned as labor. As Adam Smith famously said, echoing John Locke:
What is the meaning of civic membership? Most of us have some experience with membership. We are members of families, associations, teams, religious communities, and so on. We became members of some of these groups by birth or tradition, and some by choice. In either case, active membership entails at least three things: having a connection with the story or narrative that gives members an identity, consenting to the member’s key values, and participating in the activities of the members. These characteristics of membership, of course, do not eliminate disagreement and controversy. Just the opposite; they provide a shared platform for dealing with disagreement. So what is the civic story?
The last city on my recent trip to Ireland and Scotland was Glasgow; a city whose early wealth depended on the labor of African slaves in the British colonies. If there were one city in Europe that should be obligated to pay reparations for African slavery, it would be Glasgow.
Moveon.org has begun a campaign to restore the American Dream as a way of moving citizens to become engaged in progressive politics. In spite of their good intentions, I think this campaign creates more problems than it solves.
We need to keep exploring the box we are in if we want to change it. Much of the box’s construction occurred during the 18th century emergence of capitalism, or at least the ideology of capitalism, and the reality of slavery. The box belongs to the Atlantic bordered by Europe, Africa, and the Americas. It is a box supported by the labor of slaves and mystified by stories of liberty based on the ownership of property.