All Commentary
Sunday, August 1, 1971

Two Ways to Slavery

The late James M. Rogers was formerly a member of the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education. His essay, first published in 1955, is well worth reading again.

When delegating power and authority to “good” men, re­member that the power is apt to be inherited by “bad” men.

In the Old Testament, there are two thought-provoking stories of how a people brought about their own enslavement. While both ex­amples show that slavery is a moral issue, for the most part the sto­ries use economic and political events and decisions to record the degree of bondage and how it came about. The real lesson lies in the fact that these people became slaves through a sequence of events which, at the time, seemed to be a good course for them to follow. Since we’re making these same mistakes in America today to an alarming degree, these two stories hold for us a significant lesson.

The first of the events took place very early in the history of the He­brew people—our philosophical forefathers. Most of us are aware of the fact that when Moses came upon the scene in Egypt, the Israel­ites were enjoying the dubious dis­tinction of being among the most downtrodden slaves in that part of the world. But few of us seem to have any idea how they got that way. We remember that these Israelites weren’t always the slaves of the Egyptians, but the events leading up to this dark period have not been given enough emphasis in most studies of the Bible.

The leading character in this tragedy was the man of “the coat of many colors” fame, Joseph. He was the eleventh son of old Jacob who, in his youth, had tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright.


The first scene in the drama really takes place on the plains at Shechem—near the vale of He­bron on the land of Jacob—where we find ten of the sons of Jacob tending the flocks. They are fed up with their brother Joseph. He had announced to them some time be­fore that he had a dream telling him that his brothers were all go­ing to be his subjects one of these fine days. This, added to the fact that their father had made no se­cret of his special affection for the boy, is too much for the brothers. They gang up on Joseph and throw him into a pit until they can decide what to do with him.

Through a series of coincidences—combined with the compassion of one brother, Reuben—Joseph is sold into slavery to a merchant go­ing into Egypt. There he is sold again and ends up, finally, in jail because of a married woman who thinks she can’t live without him.

While Joseph is a prisoner, his knack for interpreting dreams is brought to the attention of Phar­aoh, King of Egypt. The King has had a dream which has defied in­terpretation by his magicians. Someone tells him of the prisoner Joseph who, it is said, can give him the meaning of the dream.

Joseph is sent for and tells the King that the dream is a warning. It means that the country will en­joy seven years of bountiful har­vests, which will be followed by seven years of great famine. Joseph says further that the dream is a warning to Egypt to store up food during the seven good years, in preparation for the seven bad ones which are to follow.

The King is so overjoyed at Joseph’s ability to bring forth this wonderful interpretation that he puts him in charge of the en­tire operation. That is how Joseph became the first OPA administra­tor in history.


Incidentally, it was this Bible story which was actually used by some politicians in America to sell price stabilization and the “ever normal granary” to the American people. The real punch line of the story—the scene where the people became slaves of the man control­ling the granary—was never in­cluded in those Bible quoting ses­sions of the early Thirties. This is how it happened.

The seven good years in Egypt rolled by on schedule, and the stor­ing of grain went according to plan. Then came the bad years. There is nothing in the story to in­dicate how the government of Egypt gained control of the excess crops in the good years, but the way the government distributed the crops in the bad years is made very clear. Joseph forced the Egyp­tians to pay for every bushel of grain they got from the govern­ment. Finally the people had noth­ing left with which to buy the food they so desperately needed. So he demanded of them that they bring him the deeds to their lands. On the appointed day they did; then he made the awful pronouncement which is never referred to when the story is retold by politicians to the American people today. When the Egyptians laid the deeds to their land at his feet, Joseph said to them: “Behold, I have bought you this day…”

In our day, the land is rapidly coming under the ownership of the government which already owns, outright, 25 per cent of the land in the United States. While govern­ment ownership of the rest of the land is not presently being estab­lished through an open “bring me the deeds to your land” approach, such ownership is being constantly established nonetheless. Men who may not even realize it are becom­ing modern Josephs. Ordinarily, they do not openly ask for deeds. But surely some of them are smart enough to know that ownership is much more a matter of who has the power of decision over the property than of who happens to be listed as the owner with the County Recorder‘s office. This in­dication of ownership in the Re­corder’s office may only entitle the so-called owner to the dubious pleasure of paying taxes on the land.

The real owner of a property is the one who calls the shots on how the land is to be used: What can be raised on it? To whom and for what price can the produce be sold? How are the profits to be divided? On that basis, ownership of Amer­ica‘s farm lands is quite different from what the Recorders’ books may indicate.* Actually, the full plight of farmers is not fully stated when we show that they no longer own the land. Joseph really put the picture in focus with his “I have bought you,” for whoever owns the land also owns the people of the land.


Many years after his brothers had sold Joseph into slavery, they were still back on the plains of Shechem with their flocks. Because they had robbed themselves of the insight of Joseph, they didn’t bother to put any surplus aside dur­ing those fat years, acting as though the good times would never end. Then when the lean years came along, they suddenly found themselves faced with starvation.

Rumor had it that grain could be found in the land of Pharaoh. The sons of Jacob journeyed there to buy wheat, which is referred to in the Bible as corn. When they ar­rived in this far off land, they be­gan to bargain over the precious foodstuff with a person they thought was a shrewd Egyptian. Not one of them suspected that he was their brother Joseph whom they had long since thought dead.

The chapter that tells of the rev­elation of Joseph’s true identity, and the subsequent arrangement to have Jacob and all the rest of the family brought to Egypt for Jo­seph to look after, is indeed a touch­ing story. Those parts of the story have been told and told again as examples of how one so wronged can—and should—forgive his tormentors. However, as in the case of “Behold, I have bought you this day,” the sad end of the Israel­ites through the paternalism of their brother Joseph always seems to get left out of the story.

You see, before Joseph permit­ted his father, his brothers, and their families to participate in this wonderful system to save the world from famine, they had to place themselves in the same position as the Egyptians. So in addition to owning the Egyptians, Joseph also became master over his parents and his brothers and their families.

At the time, this was no source of concern to the Israelites, for was not Joseph their beloved brother and son? Was this not the one who had been able to forgive his broth­ers for their horrible deed of years ago? What possible harm could come from agreeing that their brother Joseph should have this fearful power over them?

How many times throughout his­tory this same mistake has been made: Power given to someone who is trusted; then another, to whom the people would never have given power, inherits that which was given to a trusted one.

You can guess what happened. Joseph died. An Egyptian inher­ited the power that had been Jo­seph’s. He didn’t assume any power that had not been in the hands of the kind and compassionate Jo­seph. The only difference was that he used it differently. He used it to make of the Israelites the abject slaves described in the Bible.


Today we have empowered peo­ple in our own government to do things for us without realizing the fearful extent of that power. We don’t yet realize it because the peo­ple who now hold it have generally not chosen to exercise it in all the awfulness implicit in it. When they do, we will wonder how we could ever have been foolish enough to have given that power to anyone.

The market place is literally jammed with examples of how we have surrendered powers over our jobs, incomes, production facilities, and trade channels. We have also surrendered certain powers in other areas in ways we probably don’t even imagine.

In the State of New York, for example, the people have empow­ered the governor of the State to determine the nature of right and wrong as it is to be taught to the children in our schools. The people don’t yet realize the full meaning of this; but you may be sure that sooner or later the realization will come, and they will say: “How could we have done this?”

Here is how we surrendered a large part of our responsibility over the minds and morals of our children: We have given the gov­ernor the power to appoint a Board of Regents which, in turn, has the power to approve or disapprove every textbook to be used in the schools of the entire State. If they do not always choose to exercise the power, it is still nonetheless true. We have further permitted this same Board of Regents to set the standards of learning which must be met by a child before he may be passed from one class to the next. This is true not only of a knowledge of subjects like arith­metic, reading, and spelling, but also of such matters as the proper functions of government.

If you were to offer only one of the offices of our land to those who could change this Republic to some­thing we hate, they would be com­pletely satisfied to have no other power than control of the one just referred to: the power over edu­cation. You may say: “Yes, but the men who are in possession of that power are fine people.” This is quite likely true, even though I find my­self in disagreement with certain of the ideas and principles they conclude to be morally right, and which they are causing to be taught to our children. But that is not what’s worrying me. My fear is that, at some time in the future, a man who has the power of appoint­ing that Board of Regents will, lit­tle by little, destroy the younger generation’s resistance to tyranny by causing them to be taught ideas and principles which are in direct conflict with our Declaration of In­dependence and Constitution. Some of those questionable principles are already apparent in a number of textbooks. They have to do with world government, foreign wars, government ownership of the means of production, and other similar issues.

And if you think you will “vote the rascals out” if the government tries to take full control over our children’s education, I have news for you: The government already has full control. And so far as I can determine, most people want it that way. True, the government still permits private schools—un­der government supervision. And there is still some controversy as to whether the federal government or the state government shall ex­ercise the major control over the education of our children, but that is merely a temporary sop for peo­ple who enjoy arguing details rather than principles.

That is just one of the ways we have given power to people—slowly and over a long period of time—because we have confidence in them. The issue behind the Bricker Amendment is another ex­ample of this same process. One of the main arguments against the Bricker Amendment is: “Don’t you trust the President?” And the an­swer could be that the children of Israel trusted Joseph too, but that was of small comfort to them after another person inherited the power and then did something with it that Joseph would never have done. The lesson we should learn from the Israelites is this: In deciding whether or not to give power over you to your most trusted friend, imagine that his authority might eventually be held by your worst enemy. Then act accordingly; for although the friend may never mis­use it, there’s no way of telling who might inherit it from him.


The bondage in Egypt was the first period of slavery for the Israelites. It was not the last, how­ever, nor in some ways was it the worst. The next period of their slavery did not take place until many years later; not until after Moses had come along and led them out of the land of bondage and across the wilderness for some forty or more years; until they had finally entered the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.

Those early years in Canaan were wonderful ones. Here was a people who had never really ac­complished anything as a nation. They were the offspring of these twelve brothers, the sons of Jacob. They had been suffering or run­ning away from something almost ever since they came into existence. The peoples they had to fight in order to get their place in the al­ready overcrowded fertile crescent were of such famous names in the family of world tribes as the Hit­tites—the great fighters, the dis­coverers of iron swords—the Amorites, and also the Canaanites. These were all accomplished tribes or nations which had tradition and history in their favor. The Israel­ites were nothing more than a ragged group of desert nomads.

There was one significant differ­ence, however. This seemingly un­organized group of desert waifs had a most unique type of govern­ment. They had no king to com­mand and control them. Long since, these people had learned that there is a great source of wisdom which guides the universe and, although their knowledge of it was quite primitive, and their method of reaching this great source of wis­dom and power left much to be de­sired, they had a motivation which was head and shoulders above all the tribes around them.

It was not a case of each man contacting this power for himself and in his own way; they were still too primitive for that. Instead, they had selected from among their group one upon whom they felt a special mantle of their God, Jeho­vah, had fallen. And it was his job to interpret to the rest of them the will of Jehovah.

By this seemingly simple and childlike system, these people were able to overcome almost insur­mountable odds. While all the other tribes were thinking and working only on the level of the mind of man, or satisfying a multiplicity of unknown spirits which seemed to work mostly against them, the Israelites were actually trying desperately—although sometimes foolishly and mistakenly—to know the will of the force that was di­recting all of creation. You don’t have to be very good to be best at something if you are the only one who’s trying it at all!


The one selected to guide the chil­dren of Israel in the way of Jeho­vah was called the judge. Their form of “government” might be called a theocracy. But it was com­pletely unlike the theocratic socie­ties which came about in later years, when men like Oliver Crom­well and others who thought them­selves to be part god, ruled people in a dictatorial fashion. The social organization of the Israelites was the honest attempt of a people to be governed by God. It was more than an honest attempt; it was the most successful venture to date in that part of the world.

During those early years in Canaan, the children of Israel made progress such as has seldom been made in the whole history of the world. The tribes increased; their flocks increased; suitable settle­ments were made with the Canaan­ites who recognized something quite unusual and unique in these people; and the responsibility of judgeship passed through several hands until, finally, it rested with one of the greatest judges of all: Samuel.


Samuel had served the children of Israel through many difficult times, accurately interpreting the will of Jehovah. But he had be­come an old man. The time had come for him to begin thinking in terms of his successor. He had high hopes that one of his two sons would show signs that would make him the choice of Jehovah. But how would he ever know? Samuel di­vided a small portion of the coun­try in half, putting one son as judge over one part and the other son as judge of the other part.

Everything was against these two boys. They were young; they were the easy prey of tempters who offered them money; they had some extremely bad examples being set before them by the Oriental potent states on every side. To put it sim­ply, they performed very badly.

The elders of the several cities were watching all of this with much interest. They saw in these two ir­responsible young men their next judge, and the prospect did not please them. So, at a prearranged time, they met with Samuel at Ramah. There the elders told him that as they observed the experi­ment, it was apparent the sons were not wise in the ways of Samuel; and Israel did not look forward to having either of them as a judge. Then the elders told Samuel that what they really wanted was a king to rule over them in the fashion of other nations. They asked him to appoint one.


This was a great shock to Sam­uel. To him it was an indication that they were not satisfied with his judgments. As was his custom in time of trouble, he stalled for time, then took the matter to a quiet place where he was accus­tomed to talking with Jehovah.

As you read this in the First Book of Samuel, it almost seems as though Jehovah anticipated Sam­uel’s feelings because Jehovah told him that he was wrong to feel so bad. It was not Samuel they were rejecting, but Jehovah. He also said there was nothing, really, that ei­ther he or Samuel could do. If these people really wanted a king, they were going to have one; and it would be wise for Samuel to make the best possible choice.

Jehovah said there were some things, however, that he wanted the people to know before they turned to a king for guidance in matters which theretofore had always been left to their God. He wanted them to know the inevitable results which come to pass whenever men give to other men powers that should be left in the hands of their Creator.

So he told Samuel to tell it to them straight. He said to tell them that this king who would replace him would at first need only about 10 per cent of all their sons and daughters and manservants and maidservants, and 10 per cent of the produce of their work to sup­port his efforts; but that would be only the beginning. The implica­tion was that it would eventually be 25 per cent and then 50 per cent, then more and more, because he concluded by saying that they would all become virtual slaves of this king they would put in the place of Jehovah.

His parting instruction to Sam­uel was to tell them: “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen: And the Lord will not hear you in that day.”

The accuracy of that prophecy was very quick to make itself known. Saul, the first king, taxed the people about 10 per cent. David took care of at least 25 per cent more. Solomon, his son, required about 50 per cent. Along with this destructive taxation, all of these kings were performing various and sundry other evil acts upon the peo­ple—just as Jehovah had pre­dicted. Then, in rapid succession, a rather feeble assortment of kings called upon them to give the rest of their possessions to support a series of foolish and wasteful wars. It was the end of the Israelites as a nation. From that time on, un­til they became so scattered over the face of the earth that it’s really difficult to know what happened to them, they were constantly the slaves of either their own or some foreign king.


The experience of the Israelites early in the history of the world, proved the truth of this fact about government: When the people turn to the source of creation for leader­ship—instead of to the authori­tarian arrangement whereby the mind of man rules men—they have a chance to accomplish great things.

This wonderful idea of govern­ment was never really tried again for many hundreds of years. It was only after many nations of men had collapsed under the weight of their so-called divine kings, and had be­come a rubble over which succeed­ing generations and armies had trampled, that a handful of people finally crossed the wide expanses of the great sea to America. Here this idea was to have a chance to work its wonders again.

In this new climate, there were still many persons who thought it would be sure death to the people if they did not have a king to whom they might look for leadership. So they maintained allegiance for many years to their traditional kings across the sea. But when the king began to increase his take of the percentage of their productive efforts—and continually called upon them to support and fight his useless wars—some of the wiser people in this new land saw the po­tential of permitting God to do most of the ruling.


This new experiment was to be quite different from the first one in Canaan. The early Americans had learned that it was not neces­sary to have a judge to intercede with God for them. They had learned that every man might ap­proach this great source of power and wisdom if he so desired. Every man was potentially capable of finding his own answers. And so, essentially, that was the way they decided to run the country. The lion’s share of government was to be a matter between the individual and whatever he found to be his Jehovah. In fact, about all they de­cided to leave to organized and for­malized government was the power to restrain those persons who in­jured other persons. Vast areas which had theretofore always been the province of a ruler of the peo­ple, were going to be handled in this new and revolutionary manner of individual authority and responsi­bility.

Just think of it! All aspects of the individual’s life and his right to live it; all aspects of the indi­vidual’s liberty and his right to be a free man; all aspects of the things he would decide to do for the pursuit of happiness; all these things were going to be governed in this revolutionary fashion out­side the authority of formalized government whereby some men have always directed and controlled other men!

It was to be chiefly a most un­usual kind of theocracy. God would be ruling the nation, not through any one man but through each man as he knew his own God.

The results of this revolutionary concept of government were extra­ordinary. The people prospered as no people had ever prospered before them. They grew strong—both materially and spiritually. They in­vited the poor and downtrodden of all nations to leave their man-ruled societies and move to this land of freedom under God where every man was his own master and re­sponsible for his own actions. The freedom-hungry foreigners poured in by the millions. The old and the new lived together, worked to­gether, worshipped together, and prospered together. They were free and unafraid. As long as they held to the original concept of a part­nership between God and man, all went well.


But somewhere along the way the people faltered. They began to lose their faith. They began to fear the consequences of their own free choices. Without even realizing it, they began to reject God and per­sonal responsibility, and to clamor for a man-ruler to look out for their welfare and bear their burdens for them.

Had this covenant between God and man been dissolved by man in one fell swoop, maybe Jehovah would have ordained some “Sam­uel” through whom he would have passed the same judgment on these Americans that he did on the Israelites when they dissolved the arrangement. However, the Amer­icans began doing it a little at a time. They did not start right off and say they were going to have a king to rule in all the areas which were originally reserved to the in­dividual and his Jehovah. They made this decision piecemeal.

When the people first began turn­ing their responsibilities over to government on a small scale, they didn’t realize that they were actu­ally dissolving their relationship with God; but they were. And the judgment which was passed on that group of Israelite elders clear back at Ramah, began to settle on them. Little by little, these Americans be­gan to become slaves of the men to whom they were giving God’s job.

At first it wasn’t much, just a matter of two or three per cent of the total productive effort of the people that was being assigned to those who were going to assume Jehovah’s responsibility. This money was to be used by the offi­cials for the general welfare, such as charity, education, public works—”things which all men of good­will ought to be doing anyway.” But then it was 10 per cent. Then 25 per cent, and more. At the same time, millions of our young men were drafted against their wills and sent to fight foreign wars which didn’t concern them.* As we look at it now, it seems strange that more of the people—especially the religious leaders—didn’t see the connection between this and the judgment at Ramah. But the transfer of responsibility and authority continued and the percentage of slavery increased.’ ‘


Today, as this is being written, we are presently a little over 36 per cent the economic slaves of those to whom we have transferred the control of our market places, our incomes, and our responsibilities to act like children of God. How far will we go in the changing of the rules which made possible the won­derful progress we enjoyed under conditions of freedom?

All along the way, many persons have realized that something is ter­ribly wrong and have tried to show that we are bound for chaos be­cause of the absence of freedom in the market place. They have in­sisted that this absence of freedom in the market place makes for less production than we could have, more shortages than we need to have, and a final absence of wealth. Of this there is no doubt. But the time when it becomes obvious to all can often be removed some distance from the act which caused it to happen. To be sure, every Israelite could eventually testify to the pov­erty and slavery which became his lot because of what the people had done in rejecting Jehovah. But actually, the full effect of earlier de­cisions did not come to pass for quite some time. While they were existing under a partial system of slavery during the reigns of David and Solomon, it would have been hard for them to believe that the poverty and destruction which was in store for them was just around the corner. Like present-day Amer­icans, the Israelites also “never had it so good.”

When the fires of an economy have been well stoked by the en­ergy of freedom, it’s often quite surprising how well that fire holds, and how much heat it can give off even after the source of that fuel is gone. But the fact remains that whenever and wherever we trans­fer authority and power over us to any organization or person, we thereby enter into a form of bond­age, a degree of slavery. While this is seen most clearly when the organization is government, the principle still works for other organizations as well.

Take the case of the worker who transfers to some union organiza­tion authority over his right to pur­sue the happiness he receives from his work. Just as soon as that trans­fer is completed, a kind of slavery exists at once in some degree. Where, before, he was free to exer­cise his own judgment, he’s now de­pendent on the new authority—the union organization. When the time comes that a majority of those in power decide that the individual shall not go to work the next day, then he has no say in the matter and this very important facet of his right to the pursuit of happiness is gone. He has thereby become in some degree the slave of a master; no longer is it a matter which he may talk over with the Creator from whom he has inherited the right. He has empowered another to assume the position of Jehovah. He’s fired Jehovah from that job.


Slavery exists whenever we give men the power over our lives which rightly belongs with the Creator. This word “slavery”—or the softer term of “bondage”—might strike many people as harsh and without relationship to anything in our day. Slavery is more often thought of in connection with the situation existing in the South be­fore the Civil War. We only delude ourselves, however, when we fail to see that whenever our productive effort is controlled by other men, without our consent even though they achieve the power legally, it is still slavery. Periods of slavery in which government was the master are many. The people of Germany and Italy will attest to the slavery they experienced under Hitler and Mussolini. Yet both men seem to have arranged things in a legal fashion. Are the people of Russia any the less slaves because their productive effort is owned by their government instead of by a man?

There are two ways to slavery. This is not to say there aren’t oth­ers. But these two ways as shown in the history of the Israelites have been set before us to examine: Here we see a truly great people who made a fearful mistake, and then upon being given a second chance, made such a final blunder that it actually wiped the nation from the face of the earth.


Today we’re combining both of these ways to a frightening degree here in the United States. We’re empowering some people to be mas­ters over us when we know it’s not the sort of power we would ever give to someone we distrust. That’s the mistake that was made at the time of Joseph. The condition in which Moses found the children of Israel is ample testimony to the re­sult of such a mistake. Their next mistake was in demanding that a man be selected to rule over them and to decide for them what they should be forced to do in unison.

We are now in the process of dis­solving that part of our New World concept of government which made it different from the conditions of Europe. It was this difference which caused people who were nothing in the old climate to be­come inventive and resourceful and creative and productive in the new. The essential difference was that the only power men were to have over other men was the power to prevent them from injuring each other, which is a very small part of the decisions that make up the whole of life. In effect, all the rest of living was to be self-government between the individual and his God—a new theocracy.


It is not yet too late for the American people to return to our original concept of individual free­dom and personal responsibility un­der God. But if we aren’t worried now, just when will we realize the truth of the judgment of God as it was passed on the Israelites at Ramah? If not when we are 36 per cent slaves, will it be when the slavery is 50 per cent, or 75 per cent? Will we be so blind that the truth of that judgment will not come to us until it is too late, un­til we, like the Israelites, have been dissolved as a nation and scattered over the face of the earth, perhaps never to be called together again? For the final judgment was: “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen: And the Lord will not hear you in that day.”                                     

Reprints of this article available in pamphlet form, 8 for $1.00.


*For a specific example of how this works in the United States, a reading of Agrarian Reform by Paul Poirot would be most illuminating. (Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-­on-Hudson, N. Y.; single copy free.)

For a full discussion of this, see The Conscription Idea by Dean Russell. (Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y.; single copy free.)

*For a method of measuring this, see Liberty: A Path to Its Recovery by F. A. Harper. (Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, N. Y.; 159 pp., $1.50 paper­bound.)

Journals Kept in France and Italy from 1848 #52.