Chained Nixies

Peer Vries pointed out that Great Britain, after a while, was getting far more labor power from steam engines that it could ever have gotten from coerced labor. In 1840 England had 17 million “steam slaves”: 121 million in 1870, and 411 million in 1896.

Just a little earlier the main power sources were water and wind: watermills and windmills. As late as 1850 water power was “the leading source of mechanical power on both sides of the Atlantic.”

A detailed county-by-county analysis found > 65,000 water-powered mills in the eastern United States by 1840. The distribution looked something like this:

That kind of water wheel usually produced more than 10 horsepower, with 1 horsepower corresponding to the labor effort of about 28 men. So.. in 1840, in terms of raw power, the North had way more chained nixies (> 18 million) than the South had black slaves( ~2.5 million). And when it came to industrial production, it showed.

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26 Responses to Chained Nixies

  1. MawBTS says:

    Raw power is only so useful without a storage medium, though.

    What would these water mills have been used for? Mostly one task (grinding flour, milling lumber, etc) right? Hard to make a direct comparison to the kind of liquid labour you’d get with human slaves.

    • dearieme says:

      The storage medium is the water. Just control its flow to the mill. In Britain it was often a cotton mill or a woollen mill. Slavery wasn’t an option, having dwindled away sometime after the Norman Conquest.

    • Ziel says:

      That little ‘etc’ you threw in there probably also included stuff like milling rail lines and boring muskets.

      • NobodExpectsThe... says:

        Yeap, the Colts, the Winchester rifles, and most other firearms in the US, were made in New England and Upstate NY for a reason.

    • Cavalier says:

      Every human-initiated object and movement has an associated, if imperfectly known, calorie/joule/BTU value attached to it. A shoe has such-and-such value, a rifle such-and-such other value, and a shirt some other value. Most industrial energy is, and always has been, used as it is produced, or nearly so: to grind flour or to weave cloth or to fire the pistons in an automobile engine.

      You can only derive so much energy from agriculture, because you’re basically just farming solar rays in fixed plots of land, but from fossil fuels you can suck down millions of years’ worth of solar rays with abandon. And the amount of raw energy flowing around in your country is a good benchmark of its military power. Asimov was on to this as early as 1956:

      “Baley knew the situation and so did every man on Earth. The fifty Outer Worlds, with a far smaller population, in combination, than that of Earth alone, nevertheless maintained a military potential perhaps a hundred times greater. With their underpopulated worlds resting on a positronic robot economy, their energy production per human was thousands of times that of Earth. And it was the amount of energy a single human could produce that dictated military potential, standard of living, happiness, and all besides.” — The Naked Sun

    • Jim says:

      Slave labor in the American South seems to have been mostly agricultural labor and some skilled labor like blacksmith work. Has anybody been able to use slaves intensely for industrial factory work? Slaves have been worked in mining. What did the slave labor in the Gulag and Nazi forced labor camps do? Railroad and canal construction? How economically effective was the Gulag slave labor? Did it result in greater economic production in the Soviet Union compared to a system of free labor? Is there much in the way of economic studies of Gulag slave labor?

      • gcochran9 says:

        Slaves were used in the Tredegar Iron Works, which supplied about half of the artillery used by the CSA. About half the workers were slaves in 1861.

        • Jim says:

          I wonder how productive slave labor in the antebellum South was compared with sharecropper labor after the war? In theory the sharecropper labor should have been more productive. I recall reading that in the reign of Catherine the Great some of her advisors were of the opinion that emancipation of the serfs would increase Russia’s wealth due to improved incentives.

  2. Charlie says:

    It’s amazing how an emotive issue robs people of their reason.

    Besides, slaves are much better in bed than steam engines.

  3. Yudi says:

    But… it was black slaves that caused the US and Britain to industrialize, you racist!

    There have been quite a few good pushbacks against the Edward Baptist thesis, since it’s so obviously preposterous. However, I have never seen them make this point. I recommend Bradley Hansen’s blog for those interested:

  4. RCB says:

    Based on others’ responses, I feel that this post is supposed to challenge some preconceived notion of mine. But I don’t know what it is.

  5. The steam engine broke the ceiling on economic development. It’s as siimple as that.

  6. syonredux says:

    Slavery and Capitalism

    “But recently a bunch of historians, especially Edward Baptist from Cornell in a book he published in 2014, have made some much more radical claims, which have become extremely popular on the left. In particular, according to them, slavery played an essential role in the industrial revolution in the US and elsewhere. (In a way, this isn’t new, Eric Williams famously defended that view in 1944, as well as the view that abolition happened for economic reasons. As I noted above, the latter view is false, and as I will explain shortly so is the former.) For instance, not so long ago, I heard Chomsky — who has praised Baptist’s book elsewhere — assert on Democracy Now that much of the US wealth today derived from slavery.”

    “If you are interested in that debate, I recommend that you read Eric Hilt’s critique of the “new history of capitalism”, which you can find on his website. You should also read Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhode’s critique of that new history, which focuses on Baptist and is really damning. The upshot is that, despite what Baptist and other historians recently claimed, slavery didn’t play a major role in the industrial revolution and economic growth in the US. Baptist’s argument to the contrary is based on estimates he makes without any evidence and a pretty shocking confusion about the concept of GDP. When you do the math correctly, you find that slave-grown cotton in the US made up less than 6% of the GDP. (See also this for how ridiculous Baptist’s methodology is.)”

    “It’s also not the case that slavery was causally responsible for the industrial revolution in Great Britain, as David Eltis and Stanley Engerman show conclusively in this paper. (Note that Engerman played a major role in the discovery of the economic efficiency of slavery, so he is not opposed to all aspects of the “new history of capitalism” and certainly not to revisionism in principle.) Of course, this is hardly surprising, if you just think about it for a second: if slavery was so good for the economy, Portugal and Spain — whose economy depended much more on slavery than the UK or the US — would probably not have remained economically backward for so long, at least compared to countries such as France, the UK and the US. It would also be hard to explain why the economy of countries that didn’t benefit from slavery, such as Germany, have developed so fast during the 19th century.”

    “The same thing can be said about the view, made popular by poor scholarship produced by Marxist historians a few decades ago, that the West became rich thanks to colonization. Of course, it’s the other way around: the West colonized the rest of the world because it was economically superior to it. Otherwise it would have been impossible for relatively small countries such as France and the UK to control more than 30% of the world land area containing a lot more people. Indeed, if you read Angus Maddison’s excellent book on the economic history of the world, you will see that the evidence confirms that.”

  7. Xennady says:

    I am amazed at how awful American education has managed to become. Decades ago, at a church rummage sale, I bought an American high school history textbook from circa 1970, which happened to mention a certain Antebellum Southern author named Hinton Helper. Reading these comments, I was reminded that the obscure Mr. Helper was helpfully pointing out to high school students in his far future that the Antebellum Northern hay crop was worth more than the Southern cotton crop in the years immediately preceding the Civil War, despite the absence of slavery.

    It seems to me this is a significant indication that the Slavery Uber Alles evaluation of Western history has some rather large holes, yet amazingly today it seems myriad children are instructed that the only reason the West became prosperous was because of that system of manual labor. Steam engine? McCormick’s reaper? Wha??

    This is plainly educational malpractice, which would astonish me if I wasn’t aware of the deceitful nature of the left. Alas…

    • gcochran9 says:

      It is not the case that the Northern hay crop was worth more than Southern cotton.

      • Gringo says:

        To check this out, I would suggest the following from Google Books.“Cash value of Farms” search in Agriculture in the United States in 1860. I looked at it to check out the hypothesis that in 1860 the South was an agricultural powerhouse compared to the North. It turned out that the North compared fairly well to the South in terms of agriculture.

        In 1860 the cash value of farms in the United States was $6,645,045,007. [Source: page xv]. Summing up the cash value of farms for the eleven states of the Confederacy, I found that the total cash value of farms in the Confederacy to be $1,851,344,071, which is less than 30% of the total value for the US. IOW, while the Confederacy was an agricultural powerhouse, the North was not exactly chopped liver when it came to agriculture.

        From 1850 to 1860, grain production in the Midwest increased 65%, much of this increase was due to the building of railroads and to farm mechanization. This shows the dynamism of the North. [Source: page clxviii]. That also is an example of why the secessionists perceived that the South was losing ground to the North.

      • Gringo says:

        It is not the case that the Northern hay crop was worth more than Southern cotton.
        Then I suggest you spend time refuting the following, which has extensive documentation to support that assertion.
        From HInton Helper’s The Impending Crisis of the South / How to Meet It This was published in 1857, and as such used 1850 Census data.

        12,690,982 tons a 11,20 $142,138,998

        Cotton 2,445,779 bales a 32,00 $78,264,928
        Tobacco 185,023,906 lbs. ” 10 18,502,390
        Rice (rough) 215,313,497 lbs. ” 4 8,612,539
        Hay 1,137,784 tons ” 11,20 12,743,180
        Hemp 34,673 tons ” 112,00 3,883,376
        Cane Sugar 237,133,000 lbs. ” 7 16,599,310

        Hay crop of the free States $142,138,998
        Sundry products of the slave States 138,605,723
        Balance in favor of the free States $3,533,275

        This may have been true for the 1850 Census. However, cotton production in 1860 was considerably higher than in 1850. From the below link on Agriculture in the United States_1860 Census, we learn that cotton production increased from 2,445,779 bales in 1850 to 5,387,052 bales in 1860 (page 101). I haven’t located any nationwide figures in the Agriculture in the United States_1860 Census for hay- just state totals, so I am not prepared to make a statement on 1860 hay production. (No electronic searching on that scanned doc.)
        I am reminded of Olmsted’s books Frederick Law Olmsted’s books on his travels in the South in the 1850s. The Cotton Kingdom volumes are an abridgement of his previous volumes: A Journey Through Texas, A Journey in the Back Country, and A Journey in the Seaboard States. Olmsted makes the point that compared to the North, Southern farms were not that good. Olmsted is more famous for designing Central Park.

        Another appropriate quote about the perceived agricultural power of the two regions:

        We have already intimated that the opinion is prevalent throughout the South that the free States are quite sterile and unproductive, and that they are mainly dependent on us for breadstuffs and other provisions. So far as the cereals, fruits, garden vegetables and esculent roots are concerned, we have, in the preceding tables, shown the utter falsity of this opinion; and we now propose to show that it is equally erroneous in other particulars, and very far from the truth in the general reckoning

        Note that as the author is from North Carolina, “that they are mainly dependent on us for breadstuffs and other provisions” refers to the belief that the North is dependent on the South “for breadstuffs and other provisions.”
        I refer you to my previous comment about the relative value of agricultural land in the North versus the South from the 1860 Census data: roughly 70% of the value of agricultural land was in the North.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Read Time on the Cross. But any sensible person would realize that this is an absurd assertion.

          • Gringo says:

            Or you can cite data from Time on the Cross to prove your point. Thus far you have not disproved Helper.

            • gcochran9 says:

              Helper was against slavery, thought it stunted the South in the long run. And he was indubitably right about that. Like so many, he then decided that it was ok to push utter bullshit, as long as it supported what he thought to be a good cause. Wrong. I don’t take his nonsense seriously. If you do, you are misguided.

  8. Gringo says:

    The numerous waterfalls in the Piedmont, coupled with cotton being produced nearby, in addition to “inexpensive” slave labor, should have given the South a comparative advantage in textile mills compared to the North. It turns out that a number of Southerners once thought so. From The Latin Americans: their love-hate relationship with the United States..

    The conditions and the development of the Spanish American world invite, as already mentioned, certain parallels with the American South. These two slave societies have interpreted their history in a similar way; or rather, they have required the same self-justification. In 1816, the fledgling North American republic imposed tariffs to protect the development of its budding industry against the massive influx of English manufactured imports. The most ardent among the protectionists were the Virginians and the North and South Carolinians, who felt that with their inexpensive cotton and cheaper manpower, the Southern states would become textile producers able to rival Manchester
    The rich southerners (richer than the rich northerners) constantly spoke of founding shipping companies or banks in order to not depend on northern transport or northern banks, but invariably they ended up investing their capital in more land and slaves.

    Barely fifteen years after Southern Congressmen such as Calhoun and Lowndes of South Carolina had established themselves as effective spokesmen for tariffs on goods bought from Great Britain, the South had begun to justify its subsequent failure [to industrialize] with the myth that protectionism had been invented by the North as a means of enriching itself at the expense of the South. Southern leaders stirred up their audiences by claiming that of every hundred bales of cotton sold in Boston or New York, forty had been “stolen” from the South. The argument became more heated, and the North found itself charged with having accumulated capital in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth by defrauding the South through financial trickery. One contemporary writer says “When they (the Southerners)see the flourishing villages of New England, they cry, ‘We pay for all this.’ “A myth was manufactured that attributed Northern prosperity to the South’s paralysis, and vice versa. Southerners went to war in 1860 quite convinced that if they succeeded in breaking their dependence on the North, not only would they prosper miraculously; the abhorred Yankees, deprived of raw materials and the southern market for their manufactured goods, would be condemned to an economic crisis as well.

    Thus, well before the birth of Hobson, Hilferdig, and Lenin, the “Third World” arguments had been invented by Southern slaveholders.

    The South had the same possibility of industrial development as the North, after tariffs were passed in 1816. The South had closer and thus cheaper access to cotton than the North, it had ample water power in the falls lining the the descent of the Piedmont to the Coastal Plain, and it had a supply of cheaper slave labor. With all these advantages, it blamed the North for not industrializing.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “and it had a supply of cheaper slave labor”

      cheap labor = low demand

      if greedy sociopaths were wired up to be able to understand this the world would be a better place

  9. AKAHorace says:

    How did water power affect the geography of industry and agriculture ?

    Generally speaking flat land is better for agriculture than rugged terrain. Did you need a just rugged enough landscape for it to work ?

    • NobodyExpectsThe... says:

      No, you need huge drops of water to efficiently run big Francis turbines, and produce hundreds of megawatts of electricity. Not for pre-industrial water power.

      England is even flatter than New England, and it was full of watermills be the late XVIII century too.

  10. Archandsuperior says:

    You mentioned in the Future Strategist podcast that most of the Classical Mediterranean was useless for trade unless it was immediately adjacent to the ocean. How well-developed was the canal system in the North by the time of the war? How cost-competitive were the North’s early railroads?

    It’s a whole lot easier to manufacture things if you can subcontract, and subcontracting basically doesn’t work unless there is an extensive transportation network.

    Also, that makes moving troops around a lot easier.

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