Econ 1740

King Cotton


king cottonDuring the majority the 1700’s up until the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney in 1793 cotton was simply too meticulous to separate fibers from seed.

Cotton, as a textile was time consuming and therefore expensive to own, supply was low, and demand was low. While the cotton gin is one thing that we can certainly attribute the success of slavery to, greed is yet another. Once the supply of cotton was steadfast, and the hunger for it grew it became the proverbial king in America.

In modern society whatever makes money is certainly king, this is the whole idea behind good, money making economics. We value everything we own. What something is worth to us, is often directly tied to the dollar value we would if asked, apply to it. We of course call things such as our children, and precious heirlooms invaluable. Extremely valuable, or useful as these “invaluables” might be, throughout history we’ve been shown time and time again that everything has a price. Scale this up to the world stage and you have some pretty interesting behavior in both people and policy.

Before the invention of the cotton gin, many intelligent people would have agreed that slavery would surely have come to a quicker end than it did. The potential for money to be made after Whitney’s invention is argued to be single handedly the reason slavery lived for the next half a century. I agree completely that King Cotton and slavery helped build a world-wide economy.

Much like anything that produces faster, and cheaper goods today most of us embrace it. We don’t care that half of the things we purchase from big-box stores is made by a 1bc Picking Cotton 1850s Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1853-54), vol. 8, p. 456.twelve year-old in a factory overseas where said workers are paid in a currency which is only valid within the world which they work. We’re concerned about the apparent economics of saving money as consumers. Very few of us wonder if there are consequences to this behavior. And most certainly the ideology that carries us along this logical fallacy in America is rooted in “King Cotton” mentality. We’ve just figured out a way to make it feel less like slavery, and more like work. Be it the African population in the past, or the blue-collar today it’s just a difference of perspective for who’s on top and bottom, and why.

Certainly the revival of slavery contributed to the availability of cotton to be sold. Certainly the cotton gin increased that output by those same people. It wasn’t without choice that just as the cotton gin was invented we immediately started using it in combination with slave labor to make them both more “valuable”. The choice was to exploit an invention so quickly that the pioneer in the industry had little or no opportunity to capitalize on his ingenuity. It was also apparent choice to revitalize the slave industry was still in the interest of making economic sense.

imagesIt makes perfect sense that we used the technology we had then, in combination with the means in which to operate the machinery to generate the most profit possible. This led to more money in circulation and ultimately buying and selling cross border became more within our reach. Arguably slaves and king cotton established the hierarchy of labor that we still use today.

While the rest of the world gawked at the amount of cotton we could produce, they steadilly opened their wallets for something that was previously out of reach. There is no dobut that both slavery and King Cotton produced the first goods that we traded internationally with great success. The profit that was achievable with slave labor, and the cotton gin being used enabled riskier ventures further away from home. While other advancements in technology enabled us to take advantage of slavesinternational trade, this setup certainly paved the way for world-trade.

It took half a century, but once the way was paved for cotton, there was no turning back. Everyone respected it’s value, you couldn’t mess with cotton. It was simply too powerful to be brought down, or so was thought. Ultimately the north proved the confederate south wrong. Producing cotton in other places proved that not only could we grow cotton as an export, but for import also.