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March 04, 2017


Ahmed Fares

In order to exploit labor, businessmen have to have a monopsony in labor markets and a monopoly in output markets. Without the latter, the lower labor costs simply flow through to the benefit of consumers.

Slavery was exploitation, but in that case, it was the consumer who received the benefit, not the slave owner. Prices followed costs downward.

Patrick Kirk

Ahmed, can I suggest you consider "The great Divergance" by Pomeranz. The book demonstrates that slavery was a a crucial part of the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in northern Europe. We in the rich European countries now inherit that advantage and its worth being aware of one of the roots of our wealth.


Slavery is a fact of history, the dead past we cannot change it, but used as a stick to beat the West. Slavery is not a uniquely western issue:


"In February 2003 a UNESCO Conference on “Arab-Led Slavery of Africans” was held in Johannesburg. The Conference’s final communiqué condemned slavery in all its forms, but went on to declare that “the Arab-led slave trade of African people predates the Trans-Atlantic slave trade by a millennium, and represents the largest and, in time, longest involuntary removal of any indigenous people in the history of humanity.” Since then a silence has descended on the debate."

A little lesser know history?

"The fishermen and coastal dwellers of 17th-century Britain lived in terror of being kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa. Hundreds of thousands across Europe met wretched deaths on the Barbary Coast in this way. Professor Robert Davis investigates."

Currently we have the barbarity of ISIS.

Britain was of course fundamental to the end of the Atlantic slaver trade.

"The banning of the British slave trade in 1807 did not bring an end to the practice. How and why did the Royal Navy suppress those slavers who persisted?"

I haven't read Pomeranz book, but he appears to credit the distribution of coal. But the Industrial Revolution was a process of technological innovation which has spread to the whole world.

Ha-Joon Chang contrasts the fortunes of two countries that became independent from the British Empire on the same day, the Asian one industrialised, the African one didn't and standards of living reflect this divergence.

Who refers to West Indians as slaves in modern Britain? African Immigrants!

For people without access to the FT

Well any social group wishes to protect it's interests. When minorities in the UK, it is multiculturalism, when whites do so it is bigotry, racism and xenophobia.

The aggressive nature of political and cultural Islam is ignored (even the bigotry within Islam), or encouraged and celebrated. While we have nonsense of Political Correctness: Winterval rather than Christmas.

The UK has a commitment to Human Rights, not something found in most parts of the rest of the world. The UK is extremely tolerant.

Slavery is in the UK exists among individuals exerting power over others. Slavery is illegal in the UK and the law is enforced.

W. Peden

"I don’t know whether we should give Smith the benefit of the doubt and read “inferiors” ironically."

I suspect that both the most sympathetic and historically plausible way to read "inferiors" would be as (a) non-ironic and (b) non-normative. It's a bit like if you used the term "upper class" - you wouldn't mean that you think they're better people than the rest of us, but you would be describing a power relation within societies.

Similarly, Smith is saying that people in power will tend to prefer power via coercion rather than power via payment. This might be partly why some sociopaths go into politics rather than business, even though the latter tends to be better paid. (A love of praise is presumably another reason.) Of course, it goes both ways: I'd rather receive benefits via taxation rather than charity, because that means that I have a right to have others coerced on my behalf.

On the overall topic, I think that slavery was important in almost all societies historically, but if you're looking for historical sources of inequality, I suspect you're better off at looking at violent land seizures. In a UK context, that's why you can still predict people's social status fairly well by hearing their second name e.g. is it Norman, Anglo-Saxon, or Celtic?


Double negative alert - ITYM "can we really *assume* a zero impact here?".

Agreed on Smith & 'inferiors'. The idea of social rank & hence social inferiority was ingrained in Smith's society. I wouldn't say they didn't have any concept of biological inferiority as between humans, but it certainly wasn't the leading sense of the word.

I'm having a go at the Goodhart piece on my blog, btw - watch this space.

Nicholas Gruen

I went into comments to say what I see has been said by W. Peden

I'm a little taken aback at your comment Chris, as it seemed to me to be entirely benign in the way Peden has explained and pretty transparently so.

DP from Durbs

I recently read a great book: Western Empires by Sampie Terreblanche.

Prof. Terreblanche outlines how much of the world's global patterns of inequality are a direct consequence of slavery and colonialism.

Covering the period 1500 to 2010, the book also lays bare the frightening levels of barbarism behind the rise of capitalism and modernity.

Definitely worth a read, IMO.


"Well any social group wishes to protect it's interests. When minorities in the UK, it is multiculturalism, when whites do so it is bigotry, racism and xenophobia."


When the powerless group protects its interests, it's equality. When the privileged group protects its interests, it's domination (since it amounts to keeping illegitimate privileges by excluding the powerless group).

So, yes, of course, when different groups defend their interests it must be interpreted in different ways.

Ben Oldfield

Has any one looked at the boost to the economy and investment in the industrial revolution when the UK govenment bought out all the slave owners. What supprised me was the large number of middle class who owned slaves as an investment.


Thank you very much for "A white lie"
Superb in every sense!


aragon Whataboutery is unedifying. As we all know one persons unjust behaviour does not excuse the same behaviour by another person. The same for communities of people.

You offer the Arab slave Trade I raise you The Belgium Congo.


What about slavery in Rome ? How did that work out ?


In 1944 there were 5 million Polish and Ukrainian forced laborers in Germany, working in Goering's labor corps. When liberated, they shook off the trauma and walked home. Why there are no former-slave's descendant slums?


J. I assure you, there was no "shaking off the trauma and walking home".

Tom Grey

Very nice Adam Smith quote:
"The pride of man makes him love to domineer, and nothing mortifies him so much as to be obliged to condescend to persuade his inferiors*. Wherever the law allows it, and the nature of the work can afford it, therefore, he will generally prefer the service of slaves to that of freemen."

For the last 150 years, the pride of Marxists, whenever and wherever they have achieved power, has had them dominate and subordinate those out of power. (Russia, China, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Venezuela come immediately to mind).

Similarly, in the UK anti-Brexit, in the US anti-Trump, the arrogant pride of big-gov't technocrats has been mortified by the reality that they're not so popular as they believed.

Not slavery, but Marxist nonsense followed as policy, are the cause of Venezuela's woes today.

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