The book explores the chronical destitute and unequality within the American population. Seth Rockman is a revolutionary and Early U.S history specialist focusing on capitalism and slavery in America’s social and economic development. He has researched on histories of labor, race and social welfare. Particularly, he has focused on aspects that have been vital making America the wealthiest, egalitarian and free society in the western world. The scenario revolves around a fast developing and scrappy border of Baltimore city to 1840s. The book focuses on people who labored during early capitalist revolution and negligence in economic and industrial expansion success. They formed the foundation of capitalism in early governments. Following agricultural changes, runaway slaves, Immigrants and Whites from rural areas fueled the growth of Baltimore city to third position in among the largest cities in America (Seth 20). The men who tirelessly brought America to what it is never benefited nor achieved economic success. They remained manual laborers, yet they formed the backbone of America’s economy and Baltimore could not have boomed without their efforts. Seth focuses on free and barred paths for job procurement as he illustrates five men that worked in a construction site.
The theme describes the idea of attempting to scrape the working class and replacing them with the Whites. However, this was of less significance because most individuals in the corporate world were eventually exploited. Capitalism rested basing on owning and control of labor in the early republic. Free and slave labor were reinforcing and compatible despite their differences in color because even the poor whites also seen as sources of labor. Capitalist system exploited many people and extended beyond avenues of inequality.
He also looks at men working at dredging Baltimore harbor who developed commerce the core of city’s growth. Baltimore is a representative city that owes its boom to slavery hence a backdrop of his study. It had numerous slaves, free blacks and term slave’s occupants. They subjected them to difficult and dirty jobs alongside foreign and native whites. Both men and women got into manual labor careers which are short-term jobs intertwining slavery and free labor. The tradition disadvantaged women by placing impediments on their financial self-sufficiency despite the availability of the few jobs. Exploitation of female bodies through slavery as they purchased female labor was very evident. An assumption of female who lived in male-headed households never received any wage because their male counterparts supported them (Seth 47). Women domestic contribution to the house was unaccounted since its viewed as minute, poor, invisible and unremunerated. It was seen to have no use to the development of the society. Seth argues that female dependence assumption presented them as economic actors constructing gendered scripts characterizing appeals for aid and responses of wealthier people in Baltimore. When Baltimore's working people failed to find work, they ended up in various charitable enterprises. Baltimore almshouse built in 1820s, served a variety of purposes such as for the elites who financed it used it for Christian duties performance and, through rigorous rules applied to both applicants and inmates. This was a way of upholding the social stability facilitating prosperity.
Gender intersects with race and labor shaping the lives of the poor. The intersection was not random, consistent or predictable. The writer argues there was no segregation by race and slave from free laborers. This is evident through employers hiring slaves, free men, white and blacks all in the same projects. The employees are not very blind to racism because some advertisements specify racial preference. Even in job sites with mixed race specification, employers had clear reasons for balancing, hiring and investing in a slave instead of a free white man. Therefore, even if there is togetherness in working environments, segregation in relation to class, race and gender basis is very dominant in the early republic.
Slavery depicts itself in most part of the book. Children born by slaves remain slaves their entire life and labor to their masters until they finish their term. These schemes promoted poverty among the African Americans. Earning freedom to African American was an expense to the family. They failed to acquire capital or get to high ranks of skilled laborers. Seth shows persuasively in his impassioned and scrupulously researched book that laboring in Americans early life was not rewarding, unpleasant and brutal yet there was a lot of energy dedicated. He bases his argument on the full range workers who labored tirelessly to underwrite the expansion of economic prospect to others.
"Slavery work was punishing, filthy and unsuited to virtuous way of life of the artisans," Seth ironically observes that the absence of slavery would not lead to Baltimore's commercial affluence. This argument recurs in the book in varying context. Although the labors are viewed as unicivlized and unskilled, they assumed a strategic role in the development of the country’s economy. Seth recognizes that subordinate staff would not make any grievances to their masters while they spend most of their time digging and shoveling mud. This is evident when he says that unions, strikes and convectional class struggle bore no fruits rather quotient struggle of the poor to take their roles center stage.
Capitalism is Baltimore’s evil according to Seth’s argument. He notes that spearheading free market did not consider the fact that the early republic could not thrive drastically. This is because it was not a brief transition to a developed capitalist, but one in which capitalism thrived on the market platform that was not free of labor. This focused from slaves to modified slaves to women's domestic work to deceived workers. He worked against labor historians who only focused on mechanics and artisans trying to reinstate a sense of the agency to employees. Women, slaves and underprivileged in Baltimore never united despite working in the same job descriptions where their differences were not accounted. This resulted to limited autonomy as they only relied on almshouses to survive. Seth explores almshouses as a ground where reformers and elite could characterize the poor as being either "worthy" or "unworthy".
“Hard work of being poor”
The “Hard work of being poor” chapter describes the life of American laborers currently and in the past. Employers know the distance men and women will go with determined, and an incredible energy to earn enough money to live in a dilapidated, instantiated housing. Furthermore, they know that human beings work to feed themselves with the cheapest, worst and most accessible food. They will seek consolation in beer, whiskey and the human touch of people willing to offer an expression of love. Others will never concentrate with anything that acquires necessary capital to promote their living conditions together with that of their descendants where necessary. Men traveled far distances to kill their brothers in order to claim lands as their own. They enslaved them through trade to other members of their human family (Seth 54). They later create myths of savagery and murdering inferiority of slaves. Women encouraged and compelled their daughters to engage in tedious work for very low payment. Life hardened children through the hardships they passed because of their enslaved parents.
Seth writes working households staggered on the edge of disaster when a prolonged unemployment, illness, brush with the law, encounter with a slave trader, accidental fire meant that there is a difference between staying afloat and dissolution. People from self-effacing origins advocate the devastation of free enterprise as a means of propelling a political economy, assuming that a personal enterprising resource collective nature results from enlightenment.
Position contemporary African American holds in socioeconomic justice is neither progressive nor radical. This is evident through exposure of two myths perpetuated in dominant and culturally rooted American narrative.Initially, the wage labor was a temporary circumstance forced to a priority to inevitable, eventual and financial independence. Secondly, early racial politics considered white workers at the expense of free, blacks and enslaved. Furthermore, he identifies political, legal and economic disenfranchisement of workers in early Baltimore republic. Despite the fact that all categories of people worked in the same working conditions and job descriptions, acquiring stable financial status was for the few. The ones who put more efforts to its development never achieve any status rather remain manual laborers.
Poor Working Conditions
Seth describes the depressing poor laboring conditions in Baltimore city in the early republic. He clearly takes on positive explanation of what happened during this period. For instance, he had Joyce Appleby, Gordon Wood and Daniel Walker Howe in mind as most prosperous, energetic entrepreneurial and socially dynamic egalitarians in the city. These people rose to their financial status through other innocent workers who worked tirelessly for them without any rewarding pay. Seth argues that every rising tide of prosperity was a result of darker foundation effort. This essentially presented the ability of those in authority or the rich people exploit and manipulate others who lacked access to prosperity or financial development. His framework clarified a multiple exploitation of entrepreneurial systems and common avenues of inequality in the form of women, slaves, and poor laborers. It is worthwhile noting that compatibility was not an issue sincethe exploiters benefited from the ability establishing a heterogeneous workforce by modifying laborers. In Seth’s view, there was no class-consciousness among the poor instead; all the workers were literally trying to make ends meet. The book highlights that individuals including the tailors, ditch diggers, prostitutes or dockworkers, all were trying to survive literally (Seth 61).
Lack of moral economy is a great evil in American society in contemporary time. Seth investigates the methods used in the early Republic that alleviate the nervousness between labor and entrepreneur and that are foreign to us today. He states that it was the contrast of Anglo-American culture for the market to set the right price for basic needs. Regulation of food businesses was municipal government’s role. Baltimore city strictly regulated bread sizes to ensure fair profit to producers since the poor would be unable to obtain it due to high price. Seth also cites that during the winter of 1805, prosperous citizens sent wagons to rural areas to be filled with firewood which could be disseminated to the poor cheaply.
Seth, Rockman. Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore. New York, NY: JHU Press, 2010. Print.