Still Just Three-Fifths of a Man

Still Just Three-Fifths of a Man

by Steve Cobb
April/May 2003

The US Constitution, a glorious document that for over 200 years has provided the basis of the most successful political system in human history, was marred by the inclusion of a couple of clauses hinting that slavery was wrong, but failing to condemn it, let alone prohibit it. Under the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” slaves were counted as three-fifths of a human being for the purpose of determining a state’s representation in Congress. The same Founders who cried “no taxation without representation” must have seen the irony in giving representation to the slave-masters based on the quantity of their un-free, non-voting chattel. The injustice continues today: despite Emancipation and the civil rights movement, I remain but three-fifths of a man, and it gives no consolation that so many whites have joined me in slavery.

A slave is not entitled to the results of his labor, an essential element of humanity. Since the average American now works to pay off his taxes until late April, exactly two-fifths of the year, he remains just three-fifths of a human being. A slave is not expected to have his own dreams to work for, and neither is the taxpayer, no more than would a sheep. In any event, the small dreams that an individual might have are of no interest to those who exploit his labor. They have grander plans, and lack only money to realize them. These predators also lack the imagination, energy, and honesty to make their own money, and find it easier to take it from others.

Slaves could not escape their masters or choose a better one, and runaways were returned to face punishment. In the modern age, the United States are one of the few countries in the world to tax based on citizenship rather than residency. If a US citizen moves to another country that provides better services at lower cost in taxes, he still must pay US taxes, or give up his US citizenship. Even high-tax European countries do not try to shake down their citizens living overseas; this is unique to the “land of the free”. Although I reside in Russia, it is the US that tries to tax me most: Russia has only a 13% flat tax!

Of course, modern slavery does not end with taxation. American slaves were prohibited by law from learning to read or write, let alone pursue an education. Today, black parents cannot freely choose the school that their children attend, being compelled to use the closest outlet of the public school monopoly. Most whites have access to better schools, so the white majority constituency does not feel the same urgency to fix the problem, but they suffer under the system as well.

A slave’s well-being is dependent on the whim of the master, and today we are largely dependent on Social Security. We do not invest into a fund that we own, we “contribute” into a pyramid scheme that we hope to get something out of before it collapses. On average, every working black American transfers $10,000 to whites in Social Security benefits, because blacks have a shorter life expectancy, and Social Security is not a private account that could be passed on to one’s heirs. Die early, and the “investment” you made all your life gets shared by longer-lived retirees, not your children. Thus we are handicapped in trying to accumulate family wealth across generations.

A slave does not own or control his own body. Today, we cannot freely choose our own medicines or recreational drugs (woe to those who prefer marijuana over Prozac, or crack over powder cocaine). We cannot even end our lives voluntarily with the aid of a doctor.

A slave may not possess a weapon and defend himself. Today, gun ownership is restricted primarily in the large cities, precisely where most blacks live. Unlike in past times, when rural blacks needed guns to defend themselves against the Klan, it is now inner-city blacks who are in greatest need of defense, but likewise they cannot fully rely on the police. They are denied their fundamental right to self-defense.

A slave cannot vote. Today, a large percentage of black men have permanently lost their right to vote for the rest of their lives because of felonies they committed as young adults. These crimes may have been non-violent or even victimless, in connection with the drug war, but there is no possibility of redemption. Again, they are subject to laws made against their interests, but without their representation.

Why does our loss of our humanity and human rights bother us so little? Perhaps because we see everyone else now in our same condition: unlike 150 years ago, there are no free men left to envy. If some people wish to live as slaves, that is their business, but those of us who do not should be free to group together and associate with other liberty-minded people. Let the peasants and slaves have their false security, we will exercise our rights and choose freedom.

Steve Cobb is Secretary of the Free State Project(

Copyright © 2003 Free State Project. All rights reserved.

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