Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Wealth, Slavery, And Tuberculosis
Calhoun said, "I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other." Six years after his death, Edwin Drake drilled the first oil well near Titusville, Pennsylvania. In the subsequent century and a half, fossil wealth, and the technology it allowed, more than replaced the emancipated slaves. High quality fuels and powerful technology have fed more people, made more comfortable, and spared more from disease than Calhoun could have imagined. We can condescendingly understand his apology for slavery as coming from someone without our advantages.
And yet, at this moment of peak human wealth, some of us still live on the labor of others, people starve, and we foul our planetary nest. Frightening, when you think that we are near the limits of growth, and must soon do better with less. Absent an unprecedented technological save -- or saves -- we can expect relative impoverishment, post peak. We can't bathe in the same river twice, so slavery as Calhoun understood it probably isn't in our future, but we must anticipate that decreased wealth will tempt us, or our descendants, to thrive at each other's expense, and plan to avoid it.