An authorless review in The Economist takes issue with a new book on slavery in America, which argues that the U.S. rose to economic dominance because of its dependence on slave labor and the slave trade.
The review paints Ed Baptist’s new book, “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” as a one-sided account of American slavery.
According to Amazon’s summary of the book, Baptist details how “the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States.”
But according to The Economist, Baptist’s account does a major disservice to American history.
The review dismisses Baptists argument that dependence on the slave trade was the main reason the U.S. economy grew so quickly.
“So Mr Baptist, an historian at Cornell University, is not being especially contentious when he says that America owed much of its early growth to the foreign exchange, cheaper raw materials and expanding markets provided by a slave-produced commodity,” the review reads. “But he overstates his case when he dismisses ‘the traditional explanations’ for America’s success: its individualistic culture, Puritanism, the lure of open land and high wages, Yankee ingenuity and government policies.”
The Economist then questions whether Baptist’s anecdotes of a few slaves’ recalling horrific conditions could really “adequately speak for all.”
“Another unexamined factor may also have contributed to rises in productivity. Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century,” the review reads. “Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their ‘hands’ ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment.”
The review concludes that Baptists book is in no way objective.
“Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery,” the review reads. “Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.”