The following is a chapter from the book Money, Sex, Power & Faith.
“For the execution of the voyage to the Indies, I did not make use of intelligence, mathematics or maps.” — Christopher Columbus
From 1438 to 1533, before Columbus blazed the trail leading to what would become South America, the Incas established 14,000 miles of roads to connect the housing, public buildings, and palaces they built throughout what is now Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and Columbia. Although their neighbors, the Aztecs and Mayans, used beans, fabric, and other products for trading, the Incas developed a system of state-sponsored egalitarianism known as the “Mit’a.” To keep things simple, and accomplish what needed to be accomplished, Incan males would provide labor for about two thirds of the year starting at the age of fifteen. For their service, the government provided the basics of life, including food, clothing, shelter, tools, healthcare, and whatever else they might need.
While the Incas were living the easy life, across the seas, others were looking to expand their territories, and explorers set out from Europe in search of new worlds. In 1492, the Incas’ neighbors to the north would be the first to meet one of these explorers as Christopher Columbus set out on his misguided expedition, financed by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Although he is often given credit for discovering America, Columbus only made it as far as Jamaica, the Bahamas, Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, where he set up work camps to dig for gold and gathered the natives as slaves.
According to Howard Zinn’s account of Columbus’ expedition in A People’s History of the United States, Columbus remarked on the sharing economy practiced by the tribes before he proceeded to enslave them, take their gold, and apparently kill a good number of them. In his journal, Columbus regarded the natives as “so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone.”
Columbus would also go on to remark about how, although the slaves were “naked as the day they were born,” they showed “no more embarrassment than animals.” Zinn goes on to cite Bartolome de las Casas, a young priest…