Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Economic Emancipation, II: The Etymology (Sort of) of Capital Homesteading


In yesterday’s posting we described how we arrived at the term “Economic Emancipation.”  We had been discussing whether the term “Capital Homesteading” was appropriate, and started tossing possible new terms around.  The end result was that we decided to consider adding “Economic Emancipation,” but without subtracting “Capital Homesteading.”
A Man Outstanding in His Field
After more discussion, we thought that “Capital Homesteading” should continue to be the way we describe the application of the Just Third Way in the United States, while “Economic Emancipation” might be good to use in other countries and at the Vatican.  The fact is that linking our proposals to Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 Homestead Act has too many benefits to discard lightly.  We could go on for hours, but some of the main advantages are:

Pillar of Democracy: Widespread Capital Ownership
It dealt with the question of how to get ownership of the vast federal holdings of land from the Louisiana Purchase into the hands of ordinary people, rather than concentrate ownership in the hands of a few.  True, some people were able to control huge tracts by filing on water sources, but this was relatively rare.  By and large, the Homestead Act benefitted ordinary people much more than the rich.

There are hints that Lincoln intended to extend the land-based homestead concept to commerce and industry.  Unfortunately, he was murdered before anything specific was done.  In any event, there are records strongly suggesting that Lincoln intended that the new freedmen would take advantage of the Homestead Act, turning them from former slaves into owners of capital.  In another unfortunate turn of events, Carpetbaggers anxious to use the new political power of the freedmen against the disenfranchised former Confederate soldiers not only diverted attention away from the homestead option, but gave an impetus to the formation of the Ku Klux Klan.  (An example of what William Crosskey called “Carpetbag Legislation” resulted in the Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873, which nullified the Fourteenth Amendment and laid the groundwork for the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.)

The McCormick Reaper
It provided for quick settlement of the land, and the shift from slave-cultivated cotton to wheat as the principal cash crop of the U.S.  Cotton was labor-intensive, and David Christy used that fact in his 1855 book, Cotton is King, to justify the continuance of slavery.  With McCormick’s invention of the combine harvester, a few people could handle an entire wheat crop, a fact that became significant after the Civil War and there was a need for products to replace cotton.  Further, you could rent a harvester for a few days for what amounted to a pittance, while a good slave field hand could cost upwards of $1,000, and had to be fed, clothed, and housed year round.  Cotton not only wore out land at a tremendous rate, it cost a great deal of money to grow.  The cost of growing wheat was never the issue in the latter half of the nineteenth century; the cost was negligible; the issue was the market price that dropped as production soared.  It may be that one of the reasons for the shift from grass-fed to grain-fed beef was farmers looking for new uses of their product, just as today they are behind using feed grains to fuel automobiles instead of putting money into other potential energy sources.

We’ll conclude with other advantages tomorrow to give you time to think about these.

#30#

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