A Modest Proposal:
The Restoration of Slavery


Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

United States Constitution, Amendment XIII, ratified December 6, 1865


The United States prison population has just passed the 2 million mark. As recently as ten years ago, there were only 1 million inmates in American prisons. Although many new prisons have been built, even the new ones tend to be overcrowded. The United States may or may not have surpassed Russia as having the largest per capita prison population in the world.

Much of the prison population is due to the War on Drugs. 60% of federal prisons are now drug offenders. Since drugs are illegal but popular, this has created the same kind of crime wave that was seen in the 1920's under alcohol prohibition. Drive-by shootings, which can be seen in old gangster movies, became daily events in the 1980's, as newly wealthy urban gangs fought each other for neighborhood territories, with little regard for the mahem inflicted on bystanders. Although the public naturally would like these "gang-bangers" in prison, it is clear from the evidence of the past that much of their violence is a simple consequence of the illegality of their favored products. After Prohibition was repealed, there wasn't much in the way of gang violence over alcohol. On the other hand, many prisoners are merely guilty of non-violent "possession" offenses. The uninvolved girlfriend of a drug-dealer can draw a ten year mandatory minimum sentence, more than her boyfriend, who can get a reduced sentenced as an informer.

Although the Supreme Court has begun to consider that seizing someone's house because of the presence of a marijuana cigarette in it may be an "excessive fine" in violation of the Eighth Amendment, draconian and unjust prison sentences are not considered to violate the "cruel and unusual punishment" provision of the same Amendment. Nothing therefore would prevent a law from going into effect based on the suggestion of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that drug dealers should be executed. Neither Congress nor the Court are going to worry about the punishment being proportional to the offense. The purpose of draconian penalties is to "send a message" of "zero tolerance"; and if people refuse to get the message, then they need to be punished "by any means necessary" until they stop doing what society has decided they shouldn't do. It is no longer justice that legislators and courts desire, but just obedience.

Well, if all that Congress wants is obedience, it has missed a chance to really "send a message," solve the problem of prison overcrowding, and avoid arguments about the death penalty all at the same time. All they need to do is to reinstitute slavery. The Constitution does not need to be changed for this, since the Thirteenth Amendment only says: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States." Consequently, slavery could be used as a punishment.

There is precedent for this. In Roman law, there were two forms of capital punishment, death and slavery (cf. Alan Watson, Roman Slave Law, the Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987). Slavery was a form of capital punishment because a slave had no legal existence as a person. A slave had no standing, for instance, in court for any purpose except to dispute his status as a slave. A slave, technically, owned no property and had no rights whatsoever. A master had the power of life and death over his slaves.

These are all convenient provisions for modern law. Speaker Newt's desire to execute drug dealers can be matched with a form of capital punishment that won't bother the foes of the death penalty. Persons mistakenly convicted can even be freed, though they may have suffered some harm in the meantime. On the other hand, convicts can be gotten out of the prisons and simultaneously won't be whining about their rights all the time, since they won't have any:  They will be dead to the law, except to argue that they were originally innocent.

Slavery could also be used for the "career criminal" and "three strikes" offenses that have recently been introduced. Since every innovation in law that has been recommended for some purpose, like "civil forfeiture" to deprive "drug kingpins" of their ill gotten gains, has directly been expanded into areas that were never mentioned in the original proposals, like seizing the cars of men trying to pick up prostitutes, there is no telling what useful legal purposes slavery could be used for. Anyone that legislators decide should no longer be allowed to be running around on their own, like prostitutes, their johns, firearms offenders, smokers, illegal aliens, employers of illegal aliens, cable pirates, CD bootleggers, uninsured drivers, income tax non-filers -- who knows how useful this could be? Convict them; sell them into slavery; and then they are no longer a public worry, a public expense, or even as much of a nuisance in the courts. The owners of violent criminals, of course, would want to keep them in chains. And if such a criminal escaped and commited some crime, he could simply be shot by the police, since he would have no legal rights, to a trial or anything else.

At the same time, this could solve other problems. Men who worry about being arrested for frequenting prostitutes could simply buy a female, or male, slave. When they tire of her/him, then they could sell or trade her/him off. Of course, there are far fewer women in prisons then men, so female slaves might be prohibitively expensive. That would be a good reason to make prostitution this kind of capital offense. Everyone knows how hard it is to keep prostitutes off the streets. If they could be sold into slavery for prostitution, then they would indeed be off the streets but, at the same time, would be able to continue, more or less, in their chosen profession. And since they would not be having sex indiscriminately, they would also be removed as a public health threat.

The danger of serial killers could also be alleviated by the reintroduction of slavery. A serial killer now could quite legally purchase his victims, male or female, and do whatever he wanted with them, torture, mutilation, cannibalism, whatever. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens would have less to worry about.

Victims of violent crimes, of course, or their families, might consider buying the offender themselves and inflicting whatever sort of punishment they think appropriate. This would take care of compensation for victims and survivors and of the worry of victims that offenders might get out of prison some day. Instead, victims can have the offenders work for them, perhaps farmed out to a private slave-driver, who can split the profit. When the victim or family then feels they have had enough monetary recompense, then they could kill the offender. Rape victims might consider castrating or otherwise mutilating the offenders.

Now, death penalty opponents might object to serial killers or crime victims buying offenders for the purpose of torturing or killing them. There is a simple remedy for their concerns, however, since they could just buy the offenders themselves and treat them with whatever kind of imprisonment or rehabilitation they think appropriate. People who object to the practices or theory of the present penal system would have unlimited opportunties to apply their own theories of reform just by buying up the offenders. They could even run telethons for this purpose:  "See what the Clockwork Orange Rehabilitation Institute can do to make Charles Manson a Productive Citizen again!"

In the end, Congress should be ashamed that it has yet to consider such a creative and useful solution to widespread disobedience of their laws and the prison overcrowding that has resulted. They have been reluctant to "send a message" with death penalties, but they have failed to consider that something not quite as extreme but nearly as powerful as a deterent is possible. This could also solve a serious political problem. Many Americans hate the government. This could be creatively included in "hate crimes" and made a capital offense. If all hate criminals, including anti-government types, could simply be sold into slavery, then their voices and votes would no longer trouble the serious public servants, like our beloved Bill Clinton, who simply want to do their duty. Only people who love the government would be free, and it would therefore be much easier to solve nagging social problems, since everyone who counts will be ready to trust their elected officials. Even better, States that betrayed their ill will, by not voting for our beloved Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996, like Texas, could have their voting strength reduced. That is because, once all the government-haters and Clinton-haters in them are enslaved, they will only count as 3/5 of persons (a provision still in the Constitution) for Census purposes. With the population, the Congressional representation, and the electoral votes of anti-government States reduced, then worthy states, like Massachusetts, which have always voted for noble enemies of the Right, will have their influence enhanced. A thrilling prospect.


Political Economy: Humor

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Copyright (c) 2000 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved


A Modest Proposal:
Second Class Citizenship


In his infamous "End of Big Government" State of the Union Speech in 1995, President Bill Clinton reassured people that, despite the end of Big Government, you would nevertheless never be "left on your own" again. I regard this reassurance as, in fact, a Terrorist Threat. The "promise" of the Federal Government never leaving me alone not only means high taxes and unintelligible regulations designed to protect me (or, failing that, the Environment), but, if I don't happen to want to go along with all this, it means the compassionate response that men with guns, dressed like some kind of Ninja Nazis, will break into my house in the wee hours of the morning, dragging me out of bed and stepping on me, calling me names and telling me to shut up if I ask insolently for something as inessential as a search warrant. Any attempt to resist means I'll get shot, with the whole media joining in repetitions of, "It served him right."

What Bill Clinton didn't think to ask was if there was anyone who actually wanted to be left alone. His assumption, and that of his entire political party (the Democrats), not to mention the whole political Left, is that every person needs and wants to be taken care of by the government, and that dissent is only from those who selfishly don't want to help others or who want to be taken care of anyway without contributing first ("free riders"). The truth is, they don't care what people really want. Paternalism means power for them, the mandarins of government, and they simply aren't going to allow anyone to exist outside their system of social control and engineering. Thus, the Satanic charm and compassion of someone like Bill Clinton conceals the heart of a tyrant and the program of a thief.

All the same, let's give them a chance to show that they are not just power-hungry liars. How about establishing a category of Second Class Citizenship for anyone who willingly renounces all the "benefits" of the Welfare State, and who then will be exempt from all the excessive taxes to pay their "share" and from all the paternalistic laws and regulations designed to protect them from their own irresponsibility? Citizens could decide at 18 whether to be a First Class Citizen, protected and cared for by the Government, or a Second Class Citizen, left to sink or swim on their own.

One of the worst things that Democrats can ever think to accuse Republicans of is a covert desire to abolish Social Security and Medicare. Well, Second Class Citizens will have simply renounced any claim on Social Security or Medicare, and so will be exempt from Social Security or Medicare taxes ("contributions"). They will have to provide for their own retirement and medical care, individually or through insurance or fraternal or religious societies.

Similarly, the controversy over the War on Drugs can be easily solved. First Class Citizens will be subject to arrest and imprisonment, with their property seized, if they violate the Drug Laws. Persons unable to control their drug addictions (e.g. Robert Downey Jr.) will be able to live the rest of their lives in prison, where the Government will be able to protect and care for them 24 hours a day. On the other hand, Second Class Citizens will be mercilessly open to the consequences of their own addictions, and may very well end up dying in the gutter, while Protected citzens, under the loving observation of the police, confidently walk by. Leaving someone to die in the gutter may not seem compassionate, but of course this will always be an object lesson to every 18-year-old not to renounce all the protections of Government.

Second Class Citizens will not be protected from discrimination by private individuals, but at the same time will be immune from accusations of discrimination. The principle for all interactions or exchanges with them will be one of mutual consent. No personal or economic exchange with mutual consent will be illegal, and none that violates mutual consent will be legal. Similarly, the "protections" of product liability law will be rolled back for them. Thus, the modern principle that a product is defective if it can be used improperly is returned to the principle that the manufacturer is not responsible for the foolish or improper use of a product. Any foolish, improper, or imprudent behavior by a Second Class Citizens voids any claim he may have against others. Thus, a criminal who breaks into a house and is injured, whether by the occupant, by "unsafe" conditions in the house, or even by booby traps, has no claim if he is a Second Class Citizen. At the same time, a Second Class Citizen is also immune to such claims from others, if their property is identified as "Unprotected by Government." Criminals, consequently, would be wise only to prey on First Class Citizens.

If being left on our own is so bad, then Bill Clinton and his friends can confidently expect that an insignificant few of Americans would avail themselves of the opportunity to become Second Class Citizens. No really sensible person would want to renounce the Benefits of Social Security, Medicare, or expected new entitlements like for Prescirption Medicine, or the protections of anti-discrimination or product liability laws. But just wait. You'll see. My own confident prediction is that they won't even ask, and they will certainly never allow, anyone to be on their own.


Political Economy: Humor

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Copyright (c) 2001 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved