Is Economics Going Back To The 1800s? Maybe So.

Historians in the News
tags: economics



Some economics thinking seems to have gone backward in time. How far back? At least as far as the nineteenth century.

That's the observation of  Robert Wright, professor of political economy at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He's also an eminent economic historian.

He sees the resurgence of three economic ideas that were more at home in the 1800s than in the twenty-first century.

[They are:  Tariffs, the Gold Standard, and Slavery as an engine for economic development.]

...

Slavery

The slavery-was-good-for-the economy trope is back.

While everyone seems to agree that slavery was an evil that must never be allowed to flourish again, there are more than a few people who seem to think that the U.S., and other western powers, got rich due to slavery. Consider the following statement taken from an op-ed in The Guardian newspaper less than a year ago:

If the countries and companies that became rich by exploiting human flesh paid their debts, the world would be a radically different and fairer place

The crux of the piece is that the western powers such as Britain, U.S., France, etc. wouldn't be as wealthy as they are now if it wasn't for slavery and the slave trade.

The problem is that slavery isn't good economics in general, and we have detailed research from the U.S.A. that it wasn't economically beneficial. If anything, the U.S. got rich in spite of slavery. Wright knows this stuff inside out. He wrote the book The Poverty of Slavery and is a founding member of the scholar-activist group Historians Against Slavery.

He makes the following comment:

The notion apparently is that if you believe them we should pay reparations to the descendants of the slaves. That appears to be the motivation. The evidence is being exposed as pretty much rubbish.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the U.S. was fast becoming wealthy, and slave ownership was common. But those two things tended not to happen in the same location....

Read entire article at Forbes

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