“Slavery was essential to American development and, indeed, to the violent construction of the capitalist world in which we live”

Posted: 4 October 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Slave-Auction-Poster

The Economist published, and then had to retract, its review of Edward Baptist’s new book, The Half Has Never Been Told.

The more appropriate reviewer of the book is, of course, Eric Foner, who fully understands the links between slavery and American capitalism.

For residents of the world’s pre-­eminent capitalist nation, American historians have produced remarkably few studies of capitalism in the United States. This situation was exacerbated in the 1970s, when economic history began to migrate from history to economics departments, where it too often became an exercise in scouring the past for numerical data to plug into computerized models of the economy. Recently, however, the history of American capitalism has emerged as a thriving cottage industry. This new work portrays capitalism not as a given (something that “came in the first ships,” as the historian Carl Degler once wrote) but as a system that developed over time, has been constantly evolving and penetrates all aspects of society.

Slavery plays a crucial role in this literature. For decades, historians depicted the institution as unprofitable and on its way to extinction before the Civil War (a conflict that was therefore unnecessary). Recently, historians like Sven Beckert, Robin Blackburn and Walter Johnson have emphasized that cotton, the raw material of the early Industrial Revolution, was by far the most important commodity in 19th-century international trade and that capital accumulated through slave labor flowed into the coffers of Northern and British bankers, merchants and manufacturers. And far from being economically backward, slave owners pioneered advances in modern accounting and finance.

Comments
  1. Oleg Komlik says:

    An additional new interesting book on the relationship between slavery and capitalism in the U.S. is “Between Slavery and Capitalism: The Legacy of Emancipation in the American South”. See more here about it:
    http://economicsociology.org/2014/10/02/between-slavery-and-capitalism-the-legacy-of-emancipation-in-the-american-south-explains-how-former-slaves-and-former-slaveholders-navigated-the-construction-of-a-new-model-of-racial-labor-market/

  2. […] E. Baptist’s novel book, The Half Has Never Been Told (which I wrote about back in 2014), and some of the outrageous ways it has been criticized by mainstream economists—first in a […]

  3. […] E. Baptist’s novel book, The Half Has Never Been Told (which I wrote about back in 2014), and some of the outrageous ways it has been criticized by mainstream economists—first in a […]

  4. […] his work influenced the new history of capitalism. And his review of ten recent books, including Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told and Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History, is not as dismissive as those of other […]

  5. […] his work influenced the new history of capitalism. And his review of ten recent books, including Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told and Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History, is not as dismissive as those of other […]

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