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That £20 Million In Slavery Compensation – One Of The Greatest Bargains In History

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We are told that it’s just appalling, entirely terrible, that the British Government paid off the slave owners back in 1835. £20 million was paid to the owners of slaves back then and not a penny offered in compensation to those who had been enslaved:

Abolition meant their profiteering from human misery would (gradually) come to an end. Not a penny was paid to those who were enslaved and brutalised.

The British government borrowed £20 million to compensate slave owners, which amounted to a massive 40 percent of the Treasury’s annual income or about 5 percent of British GDP. The loan was one of the largest in history.

This is a stain upon our civilisation and the solution is to overturn industrial capitalism. Or everyone must pay their taxes. Or we should give $5 trillion to people of enhanced melanin. Or something, depends upon who is making the demand.

This is, of course, to be drivellingly stupid and to get matters the wrong way around. Chattel slavery was indeed a stain upon civilisation, a negation of our common humanity. We are glad that it’s gone and should be glad that it did go. And at £20 million to make it happen that’s a bargain.

Step outside the justice bit for a moment and think practically. Britain did have a political system then, varied political interests were represented. Some of whom were those slave owners. We also had a political culture back then where the state nicking someone’s property without compensation was rather frowned upon. We still have that by the way – compulsory purchase is indeed allowed for public purposes and full market price must be paid.

That not being quite the point here though. Those slave owners had enough political power to prevent the freeing of the slaves if they really tried. Which is why they were – if we are to leave that sanctity of the ownership of private property out of it – bribed into acceding to the idea. So, how much is a worthwhile bribe to get rid of slavery?

The correct answer being that the worse slavery was the higher the sum that it is righteous and justifiable to cough up to get rid of it. It was indeed heinous therefore £20 million’s a damn bargain. It achieved the goal, got rid of slavery.

As to the lack of compensation to the now ex-slaves that’s an equally odd worry. We’ve all just agreed that slavery is and was a horror. Being free of that horror is a benefit therefore. The worse we think slavery was then the more the freedom has value.

Whaddya mean the slaves weren’t compensated? What is freedom from slavery if not that?

And then – come on this is the tax justice movement we’re talking about here – we get to abject stupidity on the subject:

It’s hard to believe but it was only in 2015 that British taxpayers finished paying off the debt which the British government incurred in order to compensate British slave owners in 1835 because of the abolition of slavery.

The original loan was rolled over into Consols and those weren’t paid off until 2015 – which in itself is abject stupidity. For did we pay off any amount of the national debt in 2015? Did we ‘eck. Can’t be bothered to look up how much more we borrowed but this was in the middle of Osborne’s period of we’ll balance the budget in two years in 4 year’s time sorta stuff. The specific bonds, the Consols, were paid off, sure, but they were redeemed by issuing more debt to do so.

That original £20 million loan is alive and well inside the however many trillions of gilts there are out there.

Then there’s this:

So basically, my father and his children and grandchildren have been paying taxes to compensate those who enslaved our ancestors, and you want me to be proud of that fact. Are you f**king insane???”

Not insane, no, but doing what you insist should be done. Slavery is, apparently, a stain on this entire society. We are all guilty that is – so, we all get to pay for it. Or isn’t that what you mean, that perhaps we shouldn’t all be paying for it?

At which point the idea of reparations rather goes down the drain, doesn’t it?

But to return to the tax justice people, the idiots.

The UK borrowed £20 million in 1835 and paid it off in 2015, that’s the claim. And they want to know who benefited. Who got all the lolly? Who owned those bonds – presumably in order to be able to demand compensation etc.

Heard of inflation folks?

According to the Office for National Statistics composite price index, today’s prices in 2020 are 12,689.25% higher than average prices since 1835. The British pound experienced an average inflation rate of 2.66% per year during this period, causing the real value of a pound to decrease.

In other words, £1 in 1835 is equivalent in purchasing power to about £127.89 in 2020, a difference of £126.89 over 185 years.

OK, bit of rounding and invert it and we can work out the cost to those who bought those bonds back then. They got paid back under a penny in the pound. And who would these people who bought the loan have been? The rich – at least the richer – of the time of course. Gilts were not a working man’s purchase in 1835.

So, the actual situation rather than the one being complained about. The British did not take the American solution, have a large and bloody war to get rid of slavery. Instead, pay off the slave owners to gain the hugely greater value of freeing the slaves. The people who financed this lost 99% of their money on the deal. And this is what people are complaining about?

Why isn’t this being lauded as the greatest bargain, largest moral victory, in all of history?

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3 COMMENTS

  1. “In other words, £1 in 1835 is equivalent in purchasing power to about £127.89 in 2020”
    Something not right there. £20m spent back then would equate to about half a day’s national income now. Don’t get me wrong, EU membership costs the UK between 2 and 12 days national income depending on who you believe so there are worse things to consider now, but it does rather illustrate Tim’s point that the price paid by government was a good deal compared to the price paid by government for other things that government alleges are good for you to pay them to do.

  2. The problem is this use of “compensation” where people think it means – or declare that it means – a recompense for an injury. IT IS NOT. In the use that it is used, it simply means “buying”. The British railway companies were “compensated” when they were nationalised – that is, the government simply bought all the shares. Failing bank shareholders were “compensated” – that is, their shares were bought off them. If the government wants to build a road through my house I will be “compensated” – that is, they will buy my house off me. The fact that all the above purchses were compulsary, with the state using their power to decide the price of the assets, often after causing the assets to drastically reduce value, makes no difference, it was not “compensation” in the current meaning of the word, it was paying to buy a set of assets, no more and no less.

    And…. in the time of the early 19th century, the way that you liberated slaves was to buy them and manumit them. The British state went further and gave them free land, free citizenship and freedom to travel, move and settle anywhere in the Empire.

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