Slavery’s Legacy in American Capitalism

George Linzer
2 min readSep 16, 2022

Call me a little slow, but I only just realized that American capitalism has been defined by slavery: most business owners seek to get maximum productivity from laborers while paying the least amount tolerated by society so that they can extract the most wealth for themselves.

This thought occurred to me after recently reading The 1619 Project and considering the struggle of unions and the kinds of valuable, necessary work done by low-wage workers so that executives can receive six, seven, and eight figure compensation packages.

I don’t agree with a national minimum wage — the problem is just not that simple to solve. A minimum wage puts in place a dollar figure that can make someone reasonably secure in rural places but still poor in San Francisco or New York City or other urban areas. I’d rather see us institute a regionally-determined living wage based on real cost-of-living data that gives workers, and especially those engaged in services like police, fire, education, and other essential services, a reasonable chance to afford to live in the communities where they work.

I’d also like to see shareholders penalize executives who don’t take commensurate cuts in their own compensation when business circumstances compel them to lay off workers. (FYI: On a consulting gig in which we adjusted the inflated revenue expectations of a start up venture in the heyday of the dot com boom, I once recommended that the president of the company take a 25% pay cut in addition to cutting staff. That didn’t go over well but the recommendation stayed in the final report.)

So much lip service is given to corporate teamwork, it’s time that management puts its money where its mouth is. Share the pain. Otherwise labor will always be suspicious of management. Another legacy of slavery.

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George Linzer

Launched The American Leader to report on American democracy through a problem-solving lens with expectations of greater accountability in business government