In an article about the “Southern Way of Life”, Michael Lind argues that cheap labor is the basis for the South’s economic and political system, not racism. Slaves were surely low-paid workers, but so far the Southern system has survived whether cheap labor was provided by slaves, sharecroppers, indentured servants, the poorly educated or the supposed beneficiaries of “right to work (without unions)” laws:
“From the 19th century to the 21st, the oligarchs of the American South have sought to defend the Southern system, what used to be known as the Southern Way of Life.
Notwithstanding slavery, segregation and today’s covert racism, the Southern system has always been based on economics, not race. Its rulers have always seen the comparative advantage of the South as arising from the South’s character as a low-wage, low-tax, low-regulation site in the U.S. and world economy. The Southern strategy of attracting foreign investment from New York, London and other centers of capital depends on having a local Southern workforce that is forced to work at low wages by the absence of bargaining power.
Anything that increases the bargaining power of Southern workers vs. Southern employers must be opposed, in the interest of the South’s regional economic development model. Unions, federal wage and workplace regulations, and a generous, national welfare state all increase the bargaining power of Southern workers, by reducing their economic desperation. Anti-union right-to-work laws, state control of wages and workplace regulations, and an inadequate welfare state all make Southern workers more helpless, pliant and dependent on the mercy of their employers.”
It’s obvious that the Republican Party, which draws many of its leaders and much of its electoral strength from the South, is trying to convert our whole country to the Southern system. It’s class warfare, but in some quarters it’s considered impolite to say so.