Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Singer Lauryn Hill Needs to Learn what Real Slavery Is

At her recent sentencing, convicted tax evader Lauryn Hill blamed the music industry. NJ Star-Ledger reporters Jason Grant and Tris McCall report on the singer’s statement before the judge:

She berated the people in the music industry whom she had dealt with since her teenage years. "I was being conceived of as a cash cow—not as a person. I took myself away from society . . . because there were veiled threats."

Pounding the wooden lectern in front of her, she went on: "I am a child of former slaves, who had a system imposed on them—I got into a system" of economic power in the recording industry that was "imposed on me, and all I sought to do was understand it."

Hill needs to learn a thing or two about power.

Slavery in America was entrenched by political power. Slaves in America’s pre-Civil War South were owned by their plantation masters, and that ownership was enforced by law. Slaves were involuntary servants forbidden to act on their own judgement or benefit from their labor and, if any escaped, the full force of the law was employed to recapture them and return them to their slavemaster owners.

Economic power derives from the ability to produce valuable goods or services that others are voluntarily willing to pay for. The music industry’s power to produce and market music enabled Hill to realize her own economic power in the form of millions of dollars in royalties she receives from the industry, her primary source of income. Nobody forced Hill to contract with the music industry (as she once again did with Sony Worldwide Entertainment, note Grant and McCall, as recently as April). Instead, she voluntarily chose to partake of the music industry's economic power to turn her talent into millions.

Political power is the coercive power to enslave—and, as it were, to tax. Hill owed a confiscatory $1 million on $2.3 million of 2005-09 income. As philosopher Harry Binswanger puts it, “The symbol of political power is a gun.”

Economic power is the benevolent power of productive enrichment; symbolized, as Binswanger notes, by the dollar.

Where is the gun in Hill's relationship with the music industry? The only thing evident are dollars. The gun is evident only in her dealings with the government.

Hill's inane diatribe is a profound injustice to her own slave ancestors. She—and all of us—had better learn the difference between political and economic power if we are to avoid the very real possibility of a future enslaved America.

Related Reading:

The Dollar and the Gun by Harry Binswanger

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