Thomas Sowell: Refuting the 1619 Project

by | Jul 29, 2023

The Economic Legacy of Slavery

What was accomplished by the enslavement of untold millions of human beings in countries around the world?

No doubt particular projects here and there were the fruits of slave labor, but it would be difficult to make the more general case that slavery advanced the economic level of those societies in which it existed on a mass scale. 

The American South, for example, was by no means the most economically dynamic region of the country, either during or after the era of slavery. It was in fact the poorest. Brazil, which imported several times as many slaves as the United States, remained a relatively backward country until the large-scale European immigration that began after the era of slavery was over. The slave societies of North Africa and the Middle East, which absorbed even more millions of slaves than the Western Hemisphere, lagged conspicuously behind the technological and economic level of the West, both during and after the end of slavery — until oil, not slaves, raised their standards of living in the modern era. In Europe, it was the nations in the Western region of the continent, where slavery was abolished first, that led the continent and the world into the modern industrial age. 

In many parts of the world, slaves were luxuries, or at least domestic amenities, rather than capital investments intended to yield a profit. A large retinue of slaves was a display of wealth and power, whether in Ancient Rome, China, Africa, Thailand, Tibet, or elsewhere. In regions where slaves were part of a lifestyle — and this included much of the Islamic world — it can hardly be surprising that slavery did not create any notable economic development. That was not its role. Moreover, even in societies where slaves were intended to produce profits for slave owners, it is by no means apparent that those profits played any major role beyond the current consumption of those slave owners. 

– Thomas Sowell, Race and Culture

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About Keith Knight

Keith Knight is Managing Editor at the Libertarian Institute, host of the Don't Tread on Anyone podcast and editor of The Voluntaryist Handbook: A Collection of Essays, Excerpts, and Quotes.

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