Even Slaves in 1774 Colonial America Experienced Less Economic Inequality than We Have Today

George Washington's picture

We’ve repeatedly noted that inequality in America today is worse than it was in the Gilded Age, worse than in Egypt, Tunisia or Yemen, and worse than in many banana republics in Latin America.

We’ve also noted that inequality in modern America is twice as bad as in ancient Rome ... which was built on slave labor.

A newly-updated study by professors Peter Lindert of the University of California at Davis and Jeffrey Williamson of Harvard shows that inequality is now worse than in the slave-holding colonies.  As the Atlantic notes:

American income inequality may be more severe today than it was way back in 1774 — even if you factor in slavery.

This is not a partisan issue:  both conservatives and liberals are concerned about runaway inequality and the collapse of social mobility.

Indeed, we’ve known for thousands of years that:

An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.

Obviously, we do not condone slavery.  As the Atlantic notes in a footnote:

Please don’t interpret anything in this article as suggesting that American slavery was anything less than horrific. The paper only suggests that on a strictly dollars and cents basis, income was skewed less towards the rich during the colonial era than it is today.

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SilverMoneyBags's picture

According to the logic in this article a person making $1 million per year and a person making $500 million per year would qualify as "inequality." Try traveling to a non-Western country and then come speak to us about actual inequality and poverty. The majority of the people at the bottom in this country are still in the 1% of the world. The majority of people at the bottom are there because they are LAZY. You can go to work everyday and still be lazy. To move up in wealth or social class you have to do more than just go to a 9 to 5 everyday. Those of us who have figured this out have no obligation to subsidize those who don't.

Mark Noonan's picture

Indeed - and it was seen coming nearly 100 years ago:

...It would be the worst sort of insincerity, therefore, to conclude even so hazy an outline of so great and majestic a matter as the American democratic experiment, without testifying my belief that to this also the same ultimate test will come. So far as that democracy becomes or remains Catholic and Christian, that democracy will remain democratic. In so far as it does not, it will become wildly and wickedly undemocratic. Its rich will riot with a brutal indifference far beyond the feeble feudalism which retains some shadow of responsibility or at least of patronage. Its wage-slaves will either sink into heathen slavery, or seek relief in theories that are destructive not merely in method but in aim; since they are but the negations of the human appetites of property and personality. Eighteenth-century ideals, formulated in eighteenth-century language, have no longer in themselves the power to hold all those pagan passions back. Even those documents depended upon Deism; their real strength will survive in men who are still Deists; and the men who are still Deists are more than Deists. Men will more and more realise that there is no meaning in democracy if there is no meaning in anything; and that there is no meaning in anything if the universe has not a centre of significance and an authority that is the author of our rights. There is truth in every ancient fable, and there is here even something of it in the fancy that finds the symbol of the Republic in the bird that bore the bolts of Jove. Owls and bats may wander where they will in darkness, and for them as for the sceptics the universe may have no centre; kites and vultures may linger as they like over carrion, and for them as for the plutocrats existence may have no origin and no end; but it was far back in the land of legends, where instincts find their true images, that the cry went forth that freedom is an eagle, whose glory is gazing at the sun. - G. K. Chesterton, "What I Saw in America"

Do go to the link and read that entire last chapter - there are some rather large eye-openers for any American.  Here's my take on it:  all our fake money, usury, rank political corruption - all of that which is wrecking our nation is the natural outgrowth of our moral collapse.  Because we have ceased to be a Christian nation we are ceasing to be a free nation; a prosperous nation; a roughly-equal nation.  If you want to revive the Constituiton and reaffirm the Declaration of Independence then your first step is to get on your knees and pray for a moral revival in the United States.  Right now, nearly a third our nation is sunk in sloth and greed and petty sensuality.  Such people not only cannot stand up for freedom and democracy but they don't even know what such things are.  Go on this path for a couple more decades and it will be a majority and then our story is told.

ebworthen's picture

"Swing low, sweet Chariot..."

Aegelis's picture

Is this Twitter Finance where we spit how we feel about the economy in one sentence without charts and data? #onelinearmchaireconomist

TealDrops's picture

Seriously dude? You're comparing getting lashed by a whip to paying taxes?

steelrules's picture

How many youtube video links would you like me to post of in custody deaths, tazer deaths and other police inflicted brutality and murder, the internet is heavy with these videos.

Get caught stealing a loaf of bread you go to jail, but if your master gets caught stealing millions "like Corzine" it's not a crime.

AnAnonymous's picture

Seriously dude? You're comparing getting lashed by a whip to paying taxes?

Yeah, 'americans' mean business. They are dead serious.

Victimology is high among 'americans'.

AnAnonymous's picture

The american propagandist author did not want to underline that what happened between 1774 and 2012 is what has been triggered by one of his 'american' heroes himself, George Washington.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

The Chinese citizenism Ministry of Truth propagandist commentor did not want to underline that what happened on Chinese citizenism roadsides between 1948 and 2012 is what has been triggered by one of his 'AnAnonymican' heroes himself, Mow See Dung.

hannah's picture

..................i got a better story for old george. how about a story on imperial ...? game on Mr. D. or do you not like pineapple juice any longer.

steelrules's picture

At least in 1774 the masters had to feed clothe and house their salves, today the slaves pay for their enslavement with taxes fees & interest.

In Canada we work from January 1st. to July just to pay all the taxes levied in this country, this is equal to communisim or slavery in that "if you had 2 pigs on the farm the state would take one", a 50% tax if you will.

Bankers and Government have colluded over the last 200 years and enslaved us all.


AnAnonymous's picture

Naw, there are no slaves due to debt in 'american' nations.

It is the fantasy 'americans' get in due to their high addiction to victimology.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture


Naw, there are no slaves due to debt in 'american' nations.

Made me laugh.

It is the fantasy AnAnonymousitizens get in due to their high addiction to Peoples Liberation Opium Parlours.

Stud Duck's picture

And I thought Canada was the place to flee too!

steelrules's picture

It's a big freakn' country so you can get lost here if you need to, as for freedom you can drop out of the system, use cash only and live off the grid.

We have more freedom in Canada, but only since you were given the DHS, and not a hell of a lot more.  


Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Just because we have freedom to choose from a narrow approved list and we can own new iPhone5's doesn't make us free from slavery.

Just more comfortable.

<And much more productive for our slave masters.>

SmittyinLA's picture

In most slave states taxes on the earnings of slaves by their owners was limited to 10%, far less than the 100% collected on today's plantations (if you count in the unfunded liabilities we're all net losers paying the state to import foreigners).



Mercury's picture
Even Slaves in 1774 Colonial America Experienced Less Inequality than We Have Today


So what? What is this - USA TODAY?

67% Of Us Think Greek Yogurt Is A Good Idea!

The average colonial American slave descendent today probably has the caloric intake of a Roman emperor too.

I guess when we're all slaves...we'll all be equal. Hooray.

Augustus's picture

What a nonsense analysis.

Some are so jealous of those who have multiple air conditioned homes and airplanes, while they live on a govt. handout requiring no effort,

that in order to equaize the wealth,

they long for the day when the poor lived a hand to mouth subsistence existance based upon very hard labor.

Quinvarius's picture

Socialism is a post industrial illusion that would have been an obvious farce to anyone prior to this age.  The need for free markets and small businesses was more pronounced before there was a factory to take over and put under government control.

George Washington's picture

Smells like teen spirit   6 and 7 ...

diogeneslaertius's picture

i swear the air force has an entire tech implementation of 6/7

the level of useful idiocy otherwise required to execute some of the shit you see on youtube comments for instance is far too damning an indictment of the human condition in this, the year of our lord, 2k and forever...

now, maybe its organic sock puppet army type stuff, maybe there really are this many fluoride heads out there with that much free time on their hands - but we have avowed statements and documentation that show a more concerted effort by TPTB to short circuit any real culture.

diogeneslaertius's picture

just remember though lads:

  • the rumbling in your belly is a conspiracy theory
  • if you dont feel free as a jackboot crushes your face forever you are with white al-qaeda 
  • who are you gonna believe? THE EXPERTS, or your own lying eyes?
diogeneslaertius's picture

Gilded Age 2.0 Worldwide = NWO

Neofeudalism etc. these are just words - forget about it, its Chinatown Jake, the viscera is as real as stolen water rights and not being able to afford to go to an AMA doctor that is like a vampire squid of a different color anyways.


BY DESIGN Western Civilization has been dismantled and the goal is to break the back of 1776, of the crystallized momentum of the Renaissance. We will not be allowed to free the planet and thus we are mired deep in the trench warfare of an information/cultural war for the future of the species. (keep hitting it out of the park George)

hannah's picture

georges next story...'the dead are happier than the living'......GW logic is beyond comprehension

LivermoreJim's picture

Sorry, but George W. is a joke.  The article he mentions says this: "American income inequality may be more severe today than it was way back in 1774.."   It says 'MAY' not 'WAS.' 

Twisting reference materials should not be tolerated to booster personal bias.

Walt D.'s picture

"We don't need more equalty, we need less equality".

RAB Bultler - Conservative Politician

“Rebellion to tyranny is obedience to God.”-ThomasJefferson's picture

Show me a black kid who happens to study, and I will show you a black kid who has doors opening for him for the rest of his life.  

Affirmative action is alive and well in this country.  If the black child has a brain in his head that he wants to use, EVERY school in the nation will bend over backwards to educate him for free; at all levels of education.


If, however, one wants to blame inequality on "society" and government, possibilities are endless; i.e..., drugs, gangs, single parent families, ignorance, abject poverty, poor housing, poor diet, poor public school education, and so on.

Quit blaming others and take some fucking responsibility for your own fucked up decision making.


InconvenientCounterParty's picture

When Bain Capital pays a visit to the place where you have decided to spend your energy, you can ease the suffering of others with your noble stoicism.

Doubleguns's picture

How about when BO decides to pay a visit at your green energy employer.....seems BO has a bain program for sick companies too but with a much higher failure rate!!!

One has to ask, of course,  if any of the layed off folks wives get cancer and die, many years from now,  will that be BO getting accused of murder?

knightowl77's picture

George, George, George, what have you and that professor been smoking????

Must be good shit, if you think the poor are worse off today than were slaves in ancient Rome.  Priceless

Convervative Connection's picture

Inequality is not a cause, it is an effect.

There are only three ways money can transfer from me to the "rich":

  • I buy something I need
  • I buy something I want
  • Government (Taxes, etc)

Want to guess which one represents the lion's share of the transfer?

Cast Iron Skillet's picture

I think you missed a way that money can be transferred from the poor to the rich:

  • Inflation

The rich have the capacity to protect themselves from inflation, but the poor don't.

Convervative Connection's picture

No, I didn't miss inflation. Inflation is primarily driven by the Fed, which, as far as I am concerned, is part of "Government".

Walt D.'s picture

Hmm - so slaves had IPhones, cable, flat panel TV's in 1774?  :-)

sodbuster's picture

And food stamps, and WIC, and unemployment comp, and free school lunch programs, free health care, and..........................?

RocketmanBob's picture

GW, I generally enjoy your essays; finding them informative, regardless of whether I agree with the theses or not.  But seriously my friend, it's defies reason to assert that slaves, who were largely unpaid, enjoyed greater income equality than we do today.  And the same goes for any attempt to do the same with ancient Rome.


Any attempts to "mathematically" prove such an assertion must either begin from a flawed assumption or run into some serious singlularities; slave income being essentially zero.


My intuition is that Professors Williamson and Lindert have an ideological axe to grind.


My Regards

diogeneslaertius's picture

while a rational attempt to quantify the quality of life metrics may run aground on an inability to kick up meaningful, high-fidelity data - it seems reasonable to me to look at genetically modified food supply and a global technocratic slave grid implemented in such a way that people even LOVE THEIR SERVITUDE, centuries of engineered wars, the 4Q holographic economic deathstar, etc. and to argue that we are not only increasingly less free than indentured servants and outright slaves of the last several thousand years - we are today in a worse condition altogether which defies any limited, historic classification set. 



we cannot be fooled by a general sufficiency and technological efflorescence offsetting the baselines here, people are sick, miserable, and broke - we are being inserted into a post human borg beehive.


if you can't feel it (not suggesting OP cannot or anyone here, if those who cant feel the fire can see it around these parts), you will as soon as your relativistic bubbles burst - unfortunately im of the school that portrays the enemy as incrementalists who will never offer creative destruction under such circumstances, its frog in the pot over decades and no off the cliff, so many will escape the crises, bought off by cell phones that can make pancakes and a cultivated taste for getting by and muddling through.


want to thumb up but cant thumb up or down on that comment sir - we need to go deeper

AnAnonymous's picture

'Americanism' is still the best to ever happen to humanity.

People start to scratch their head to find worse but no matter what, 'americanism' is still the best thing to have happened to humanity.

Just withdraw the losers and you'll get only winners...

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

AnAnonymism is still the smelliest to ever happen to humanity.

Chinese citizenism citizens start to scratch their butt to find worse but no matter what, AnAnonymism is still the smelliest, crustiest bit to have happened to humanity.

Just withdraw the losers and you'll get the empty set...

moonshadow's picture

lol- appropriate choice of moniker

Ghordius's picture

did you ever explain by what criteria you are sure you aren't an exponent or example of "Americanism"?

You post comments on a blog, for example... You have an opinion on a lot of things... You engage in friendly debate... You critizise some behaviours...

AnAnonymous's picture

You post comments on a blog, for example... You have an opinion on a lot of things... You engage in friendly debate... You critizise some behaviours...

Because that stuff would have to define 'americans'?

On that ground, there were 'americans' from very early in human history...

How come that 'americans' sell their lot and 'americanism' as something new in the history of humanity if for being an 'american' it takes to make comments in one agora, have opinions on stuff, friendly debate, critize some behaviours?

Those have never been the measure of an 'american'...

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

He's an 'american'. He signs half of his posts that way.

AnAnonymous's picture

'Americans' are so imbued with themselves and so used of exempting themselves from their own comments...

You sign some of your comments under my handle. By the standards you've just issued, it would mean you are also the target of fantasist, uninspired, 'american' cheap shots...

But, hey, 'americanism' is as 'american' does. 'American' rules apply at the whim of 'americans'.

AnAnonymous's picture

The King should be charged for that.

LMAOLORI's picture



Ironic then isn't it George that 

Income Inequality Worse Under Obama Than George W. Bush


It was only a few months ago that the Congressional Budget Office released a report illustrating how the very richest Americans have pulled away from the rest of societyin the past 30 years.

But that report used data that was only complete through 2007. Saez's calculations go through 2010, suggesting that White House rhetoric or no, the trends of the past three decades haven't started to reverse themselves.

Here's how Saez's math breaks down, for the curious: In the 2009-2010 period, a time of modest economic growth, the top 1 percent of U.S. earners captured 93 percent of all the income growth in the country.

Got that? Now compare it to how the mega-rich made out during the Bush upswing years of 2002 to 2007. During that time, the top 1 percent of earners captured just 65 percent of all the income growth.

That means the rising tide has lifted fewer boats during the Obama years -- and the ones it's lifted have been mostly yachts.

in full


The Federal Reserve is the mother's milk of empire, tyranny and statism.  Big government and central banks exist for no purpose except to massive concentrate wealth and power.  Moreover, it's absolutely true that the phrase "99% vs the 1%" is indeed a valid premise even if it was hatched by socialists on the left.  What the progressive left fails to grasp is that it was liberal progressive Democrats who delivered unto us the Federal Reserve that was empowered to transfer wealth from the 99% to the 1%.

In many way, the progressive left considers itself intellectually superior to liberty because, control freaks that they are, they believe that there isn't anything they can't control or shouldn't control, given their totalitarian mindsets. . Hence, they have an enormous propensity to align themselves with big corporatist and big bankster money, the very same folks they claim to abhor as the blood suckers of humanity.  It's a situation of where progressive police state ideology butts heads with the real power - the power of big statist money.  In the end, it's always about power and never liberty or even the the prosperity of the people.   The first victims of most Marxists revolutions are typically the bourgeois, the middle class, and the backbone of any flourishing and prosperous society.  Marxist revolutions are never about revolts against capitalism but always about joining with the powerful to share totalitarian power. 

Communist party officials always had the finest homes and the finest foods. They always exempted themselves from breadlines as the hoards of lowly humanity, the proletariat they claim to love, waited in line for hours to buy a loaf of moldy and stale bread.  The commie officials always had the best of everything from caviar to imported French wines.  From Stalinists and Marxists to the limousine liberals of the west, these folks thoroughly enjoy their rockstar status, power and money.



Maybe the government should get out of the way and you George should stop using Class Warfare since you claim to be a Libertarian

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

Add it to his laundry bill, Charlie.

wcvarones's picture

"Inequality" and the "Gini coefficient" are absurd socialist constructs that are best remedied by eating the rich.

I don't give a rat's ass whether Bill Gates has $30 billion or $50 billion -- neither impact my life.

I had a leftist alcoholic economics professor in college who went on and on about this nonsense.