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Treason in Defense of Scientific Management

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I must admit that I don’t find this at all surprising:

Caitlin C. Rosenthal didn’t intend to write a book about slavery. She set out to tackle something much more mundane: the history of business practices. But when she started researching account books from the mid-1800s, a period of major economic development during the rise of industrialization in the United States, Rosenthal stumbled across an unexpected source of innovation.

Rosenthal, a Harvard-Newcomen Fellow in business history at Harvard Business School, found that southern plantation owners kept complex and meticulous records, measuring the productivity of their slaves and carefully monitoring their profits—often using even more sophisticated methods than manufacturers in the North. Several of the slave owners’ practices, such as incentivizing workers (in this case, to get them to pick more cotton) and depreciating their worth through the years, are widely used in business management today.

Though it appears this is all news to historians of business, historians of slavery have been pointing this out more or less since the 1970s. In an oft-cited 1973 article in the Journal of Economic History, R. Keith Aufhauser pointed out that the task system — usually regarded as less brutal than gang labor — enabled plantation overseers to calibrate particular jobs to the capabilities of particular slaves, and that the meager forms of autonomy available to the enslaved within the task system (e.g., small garden plots and other “rewards” for obedient labor) enabled managers to assert greater control over the enslaved. Historians since the 1970s pretty well demolished Eugene Genovese’s assertion slavery was a feudal anomaly within an emerging bourgeois capitalist economy, and I can’t think of any recent work on slavery that hasn’t emphasized slavery’s ruthless capitalist aspects. Then again, classic business histories like Alfred Chandler’s Visible Hand and Daniel Wren’s Evolution of Management Thought had utterly nothing to say about the genealogical relationship between slavery and scientific management, so I suppose it’s a promising sign that business historians like Rosenthal are finally catching up….

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  • MikeJake

    The very concept of accounting for depreciation expenses for your human property is horrifying to me.

    • howard

      this is the essential reality: slaves were simply a factor of production. that they were also human beings was essentially beside the (business) point.

      • patrick II

        For more modern capitalism, we can update your statement by changing the word “slaves” to “working class people of any color”

        • Anonymous

          Yes, slavery is virtually indistinguishable from working class drudgery. Apart from the physical and mental torture, the malnourishment, housing, citizenship, and so forth.

          • Apart from the physical and mental torture, the malnourishment, housing,

            Because none of these things are experienced by working class people in modern America…

            • Origami Isopod

              Honestly I am really not comfortable at conflating the two. I most definitely think that human-rights abuses related to labor should be exposed and talked about, but — especially as a white person — I want to be careful about using the institution of slavery in the Americas in my comparisons.

              • No absolutely. They’re not on anywhere near the same level.

                That said, you can distinguish the two without erasing the present.

                • jefft452

                  well said

              • MAJeff

                One of the things that is worth remembering, though, is that slavery continues to exist. So, it’s not just comparisons with American chattel slavery that are problematic, but that the conditions of actually existing slavery complicates any comparisons.

                Now, to be sure, there are aspects of bonded labor that are built in to global capitalist economy today, and there are work conditions that bonded and “free” labor share, but it is worth recognizing the distinctions where they exist, as well as the similarities.

                • Origami Isopod

                  Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. I’m wary because of all the people out there with a vested interest in denying the exceptional atrocity that was legal race-based slavery in the U.S. Also the Jerome Armstrong types.

                • MAJeff

                  With ya.

                • DrDick

                  Slavery continues to exist in this country, especially in the garment trade, light manufacturing, and agriculture, as well as in the offshored production of first world corporations. Again, this simply highlights the point Patrick II made, that for modern capitalists, the fact that workers are human is purely incidental (and largely irrelevant to the extent they can evade laws protecting workers).

              • I thought the sentence was just about workers being a production factor only, which is the case. There’s no slavery, but what calculations there are involve nothing but dollars, which is obviously the case.

                Maybe I’m oblivious.

                • Origami Isopod

                  No, you’re correct. I suppose I’ve just seen too many derails from firebaggers and other people arguing in bad faith.

                • Well, it is the case that I am oblivious to how many times I use “the case” so let’s not discount my possible case of obliviousness, which I also repeat.

                • patrick II

                  Mr. Substance, you are correct. Workers being regarded only as a production factor is exactly what I took Howard to say, and I assert they still do. I am not conflating modern workers with 19th century slaves in all aspects, but certainly in that one. I think it is reasonable to assert that modern workers are generally treated with disregard for their humanity but clearly not subjogated to the tortuous, aggressive suppression and denial of all aspects of the humanity of slaves.

              • Jonathan

                First of all, slavery continues to exist within America presently. It never stopped existing. That chattel slavery ended didn’t mean all forms of slavery ended. For example, a large portion of the produce you eat and the clothes you wear are produced by slave labor. This has been a rather constant factor in American life.

                I’d also like to point out the racial component to class in America that goes pointedly unmentioned in these discussions. Poor & working class families are disproportionately people of color. This is due to the effects of racism on social mobility. The conflation of race and class happens because White society isn’t comfortable confronting the ongoing racism in our society and uses class as a euphemism for race.

                Let’s also talk about citizenship in the context of modern American slavery. As a requirement of all systems of bondage, slaves must be denied full citizenship lest they vote to end slavery. The large undocumented population is directly denied citizenship. The large Black population is defacto denied citizenship through the disproportional policing, prosecuting, convicting, and incarceration of Blacks. Wherein, once incarcerated, their labor can be exploited for sub-subsistence wages.

                • Lets also remember that a there is a huge, literal, prison slave population that produces for the market in the US.

                • Origami Isopod

                  Good points; thanks for raising them.

                • Jonathan

                  @Aimai I explicitly mentioned that.

                  The large Black population is defacto denied citizenship through the disproportional policing, prosecuting, convicting, and incarceration of Blacks. Wherein, once incarcerated, their labor can be exploited for sub-subsistence wages.

                • MAJeff

                  @Jonathan, I think one of aimai’s other points–and correct me if I’m wrong–is the role of prison labor in the world’s consumer goods factory, China.

                • Erik

                  In fact, there is actually, as far as I can tell, very little actual production activity that takes place in prison. I don’t know why this idea is so pervasive. It simply isn’t the case. See Christian Parenti on the subject (e.g., http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Prison_System/BeyondPrisonIndusComp.html)

              • Tristan

                patrick’s comment doesn’t parse as a direct equivalency in context. anonymous is playing the disingenuity game.

          • Lee Rudolph

            All of which states of affairs in contemporary workers’ lives obtain, or not, in respect of their humanity and not of their status as “factors of production”, and are thus just as “essentially beside the (business) point” in their cases as in the case of slaves. Examples in which each of the states of affairs listed (with the partial exception of gratuitous physical and mental torture) obtain in contemporary workers’ lives principally or solely due employers’ actions (or inaction) can be readily found in the news, every week of the year. But you knew that.

        • Anonymous

          For more modern capitalism, we can update your statement by changing the word “slaves” to “working class people of any color”

          This conveniently disappears the role of white supremacism in historical and in modern forms of slavery. Was that your intention? Are you white?

          • Tristan

            What are your crimes?

        • Tehanu

          It’s “human capital management” per SAP, the only-too-well-known accounting system originating in (where else?) Germany.

      • MAJeff

        this is the essential reality: slaves were simply a factor of production. that they were also human beings was essentially beside the (business) point.

        They were resources, resources who happened to be human. Human resources.

        • Randy

          And that is why I’ve always hated that term. At least “personnel” recognized the humanity of the workers.

          • MAJeff

            Well, it has the advantage of being honest. We’re merely resources who happen to be human.

      • Erik

        This is something that a lot of people have trouble understanding. Barbara Fields make this essential point: “Probably a majority of American historians think of slavery in the United States as primarily a system of race relations—as though the chief business of slavery were the production of white supremacy rather than the production of cotton, sugar, rice and tobacco.” (“Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America”)

      • DrDick

        Not that much different from modern corporations.

    • Malaclypse

      Also gives new, or at least clearer, meaning to the phrase “our people are our biggest asset.” Assets are things you own (and can depreciate). You should have obligations to your employees, meaning they are a liability.

      • Lee Rudolph

        “Our people are our biggest liability” just isn’t going to click, I’m afraid.

        • Malaclypse

          Only because most people lack the scintillating wit found among accountants.

          • Lee Rudolph

            It’s so scintillating it can’t be depreciated, you have to expense it!

            • Malaclypse

              Don’t be ridiculous. Intangibles get amortized, not depreciated.

              • Lee Rudolph

                Wit is an intangible???

                • Malaclypse

                  Well, it is an intellectual property.

                • David M. Eckstein, Esq.

                  It’s something that’s difficult to measure but which we often attempt to value, all the same — things like goodwill, and hustle.

                • fledermaus

                  My contract professor used to say “If you can lick it, it a tangible good, if not it is intangible”

                • Rigby Reardon

                  things like goodwill, and hustle

                  And clutch. Don’t forget clutch.

              • cpinva

                since wit has no determinable useful life, it is neither depreciated or amortized, it just sits there on the balance sheet, forever.

                • Malaclypse

                  What about half-wits then?

                • cpinva

                  “What about half-wits then?”

                  they have an indeterminable useful half-life.

        • Hogan

          Often thought but seldom said.

        • guthrie

          BUt that explains the haste with which many businesses divest themselves of their employees…

      • advocatethis

        In practice, though, when you call your employees an asset, it is intended and received as a positive comment on their value to your enterprise. If you refer to them as a liability they are going to take that as an aspersion on their value. It’s too late to turn that around.

      • UserGoogol

        I don’t think ownership is really a necessary part of being an asset. (And anyway the metaphorical usage of the word asset has traveled way way outside of the business world.) The important thing isn’t that you own it, but that you are able to benefit from it. Money owed to a company is counted as an asset, even though if they can’t actually say they own it.

        • UserGoogol

          “though” shouldn’t be in that last sentence.

          Also to address the second paragraph of Malaclypse’s point, workers are more or less both a liability and an asset. The liability is that they need to pay their workers, and the asset is that they have people on hand willing to provide services to them. Since the point of all that corporate bullshit is to praise the work workers do, that’s the asset side of the balance sheet. (Workers do, of course, have a pretty big stake in the liability side of the balance sheet, though. But saying “paying you guys is a big expense” doesn’t quite have the same motivational buzz to it.)

    • David Hunt

      Even today, the same system that is used to depreciate equipment-type assets is also used to depreciate farm livestock as well. I suspect that is how the Southern plantation owners saw it…

    • SteveHinSLC

      Then again, similar accounting maneuvers are done by sports teams on their players.

      And those guys are some of the highest wage earners in the world.

      • cpinva

        “Then again, similar accounting maneuvers are done by sports teams on their players.”

        no, they aren’t. their contract bonuses are amortized (GAAP), over the life of the contract, and the regular contract payments are expensed as paid, or due to be paid. the players themselves are neither depreciated or amortized.

        • Bruce Leroy

          Team owners can depreciate the purchase price of the team over 15 years (i think), since Bill Veeck convinced congress that purchasing a team is really purchasing the roster, and players get worse, so it is a depreciable asset

          • cpinva

            you think wrong. the purchase price of the team is a capital item, under IRC 263, and GAAP. the seller & buyer can agree to treat the stock purchase/sale as a purchase/sale of individual assets, for tax purposes (known as a section 338 election). using this method, the purchase price is allocated, pro rata, among the individual assets, according to their fair market value, in strict order. whatever is left over, after allocation among identified tangible/intangible assets, is deemed “goodwill”. it is this which is now allowed (per IRC 197), to be amortized over a 15 year period. under GAAP, goodwill is neither depreciable nor amortizable.

            IRC 197 came into existence as the result of multiple tax court cases involving the concept of an amortizable “in-place work force” value, having no historical/accounting/legal precedence anywhere. it was solely the creation of big law, to give acquiring entities some (thin) basis for amortizing then non amortizable goodwill. it failed repeatedly, up to and including at the USSC. as the result of lobbying efforts, congress passed IRC 197, creating, out of whole cloth, the concept of amortizing acquired goodwill. another bit of corporate welfare.

            the players themselves are not depreciable/amortizable, their bonuses/contracts are.

  • JENNIE BOT 2.0

    *BEEP BOOP*

    TO COMPLAIN ABOUT OR EVEN DISCUSS SLAVERY IN THE U.S. IS:

    MARXISM, REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNISM.
    MARXISM, REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNISM.
    MARXISM, REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNISM.
    MARXISM, REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNISM.
    MARXISM, REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNISM.
    MARXISM, REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNISM.
    MARXISM, REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNISM.
    MARXISM, REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNISM.

    *BEEP BOOP*

  • Pat

    Favorite story of slave labor was in the autobiography of John Sutter, bought years ago at a flea market. Sutter was a murderous immigrant who wandered west and won a ranchero, a Spanish land grant, in California in the early 1800’s. Conspired with a sea captain to kidnap and enslave a group of Hawaiians to work his plantation, as it was too expensive to import Africans. In his memoir, Sutter congratulated himself on his brilliance in this regard.

    When the Hawaiians discovered gold on the ranchero when building a mill, they realized that they could use it to buy their passage home. So within hours they left, carrying the food they needed and heading west to the Pacific. They also told every brigand they met on the way where they found gold. Sutter was completely shocked by this, as well as the lawlessness of these men. They took his crops, his animals, burned his buildings – shocking!

    • DocAmazing

      Now his name graces a health care conglomerate with similar morals.

    • Mike G

      Now THAT is Karma.

  • Hell of a way to come back after a long absence. Could we at least have a humorous reintroduction?

    • davenoon

      I’m all out of jokes, man… I used them all up this week in my War of 1812 lectures….

      • rea

        Judging by the timestamp on the first comment, he’s dave3:10pm.

        Well, I tried . . .

      • “I am all out of jokes. I am so lost without them.”…I explained the plot of the Mouse that Roared to some of my students today and they all broke out in riotous laughter. I suggested it might be a strategy for African development. ;-)

        • Origami Isopod

          J. Otto, did you mean to give everyone an Air Supply earworm?

          • Emma in Sydney

            There is no end to his perfidy.

            • Isn’t Air Supply’s main base of fans in their homeland of Australia?

              • Emma in Sydney

                If so, I’ve never met one. Strictly an export product.

                • Ahuitzotl

                  This is what Australia claims about all their noxious products ..BeeGees, AirSupply, ONJ, Kyyyylieeee, whichever

                • Emma in Sydney

                  Oi, most of them are English imports, anyway. No true Australians, eh!

          • MAJeff

            In high school show choir (think 1980s Glee), we wanted to do “Even the Nights are Better” but our former-nun choir director thought it was too sexually suggestive.

        • cpinva

          you’re the first person I’ve heard/seen mention that movie (a brilliant seller’s satire) in years, good for you! I suspect it got way overshadowed by dr. Strangelove.

          • mch

            Let’s not forget Seller’s brilliant performance in The Wrong Box (1966). (“I wasn’t always as you see me now.”) A movie about an investment scheme, the tontine, which bears some relation I think to the modern history of insurance. The movie’s based on a book by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne book the movie’s based on, so written in the second half of 19th c.
            Btw, I highly recommend Craig Wilder’s Ebony and Ivy. A reminder, close to home for academics, of the north’s participation in the economy of slavery.

            • JoyfulA

              There was a hue and cry, maybe 20 years back, about all the insurance companies of the North that had covered the property of Southern planters, including slaves.

              All the existing companies felt compelled to open their musty old journals, find any such insurance coverage, and publicly apologize.

              Too little, too late, but an interesting glimpse of history.

            • grouchomarxist

              “I specialized in rare marine diseases of the spleen.”

              Brilliant cameo, that. Living proof of the old adage about small parts. (That’s roles, you deviated preverts.)

            • Tehanu

              But Sellers isn’t actually in the movie very much. Ralph Richardson and John Mills as oblivious and murderous brothers, respectively, are the prizes of the whole thing.

      • Tristan

        It was a pretty funny war

  • Jordan

    yay, a brand new front pager! :)

  • CD

    Was it Mintz who pointed out that slave-run sugar plantations were some of the first modern industries, in terms of scale, capital investment, and management? I may be thinking of someone else.

    • Hogan

      Yep. Sweetness and Power.

    • Malaclypse

      I think it was Mintz, yes. Highly recommend the book to anyone who has not read it.

  • liberal

    OT: What’s this about?

    BREAKING: DC Circuit rules the #Obamacare #birthcontrol mandate “trammels the right of free exercise in Religious Freedom Restoration Act”

    http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/opinions.nsf/947B9C4D8A1E54E785257C16004E80C9/$file/13-5069-1464136.pdf

    • Dorinda C. Bordlee was on the brief for amici curiae
      Abortion Breast Cancer Coalition, et al. in support of
      appellants.

      Christ, there are still idiots pushing that one?

      • MAJeff

        Oh, yes. It’s at the very core of many “informed consent” approaches to abortion restriction: Force doctors to lie to women.

        • Yeah, I know they still trot it out. It was more the idea of a foundation dedicated to it.

          • Lee Rudolph

            There is no idea so bad that it cannot be more profitably exploited by some grifter with a foundation.

      • liberal

        Is this connected to (Scott’s?) post that it’s ridiculous to extend religious freedom to for-profit corporations?

    • rea

      Janice Rogers Brown, the biggest nutjob on the appellate bench

    • Jordan

      Oh right, Janice Rogers Brown.

    • Joe

      The SCOTUSBlog analysis suggests even Janice Rogers Brown realized that generally speaking for profit corporations don’t have religious rights but here one or two people control it, so they on their own can raise the claim and have a good shot at winning it. The partial dissent is well written.

  • jackrabbitslim

    The similarities between scientific management and the methods of slavers seem like a really visceral argument in favor of a guaranteed basic income from a dignity standpoint.

    • jackrabbitslim

      I don’t wish to in any way minimize the horrors of actual, fucking terrible historical American slavery. Just the fact that ANY parallels can be drawn seems like reason enough to revisit the shittiness of modern capitalism.

      • Origami Isopod

        Agreed. I’m really sorry if I came off as concern trolling upthread; I agree that a certain terrible phenomenon may have roots in a different terrible phenomenon without the two being equal in atrocity.

        • I don’t think anyone would mistake you for a concern troll.

        • MAJeff

          I think this is a central part: has roots in.

          The thing tying together American chattel slavery and “scientific management” is, quite simply, control of labor. And, a central aspect of the conversation comes down to, as a Marxist might say it, conflict at the point of production. Management has an interest in maximizing its control over labor and workers have an interest in not being controlled, particularly when it comes to working under dehumanizing conditions.

          Complete aside. Running through my mind, all of a sudden, are thoughts about Weber and the Protestant ethic and Calvinism (it’s the religion week in Intro)…I’m just thinking about all the profit-maximizing Baptist slave-holders.

          • cpinva

            “I’m just thinking about all the profit-maximizing Baptist slave-holders.”

            this is why the southern Baptist churches split off from the main Baptist church to begin with: to provide a religious based support for human chattel slavery in the southern states.

            • MAJeff

              Oh, yes, I brought that up today :)

              And I made it clear that both the abolitionists and slavers could point to the Bible for justification–it’s the group’s values that influence which part of a text matters.

          • DrDick

            Actually, most of the slaveholders, at least the larger ones, were predominantly Episcopalians. May also have been some Presbyterians in there. Religious affiliation was largely stratified by class in the South until the 60s or 70s. The Planter class were Episcopals, the merchants were Presbyterians, the small businessmen and skilled trades were Methodist, and the workers were Baptists. Poor whites were Evangelical and Pentecostal.

            • James Tiberius Kirk (old original)

              Or as I’ve heard it, Episcopalians are Presbyterians with investments; Presbyterians are Methodists who’ve been to college; Methodists are Baptists with shoes.

              • Hogan

                Oh goddamn it.

                • If you keep doing that, it’ll get stuck that way.

      • GoDeep

        I don’t wish to in any way minimize the horrors of actual, fucking terrible historical American slavery. Just the fact that ANY parallels can be drawn seems like reason enough to revisit the shittiness of modern capitalism.

        Your first sentence disproves your second sentence: Slavery was such a fucked up, shitty system that there are no parallels to modern capitalism.

        Accounting is just a tool, like any other. You could just as easily say that the Bible was a tool of slaveowners…but then John Brown came along and used it as a tool of abolitionists…And then MLK came along and used it as a tool of desegregationists.

        • Slavery was not one thing. There is an emphasis on slavery in the US. But, as brutal as the cotton plantations in the US South were they were not nearly as deadly as the sugar cane plantations in the Caribbean and Brazil. Here slaves were worked to death by Europeans and just replaced with new imports from Africa. Whereas in the US natural population growth increased the total slave population from 400,000 initial imports to about 4,000,000 people on the eve of emancipation. Whereas out of 4,000,000 slaves imported into Brazil only 1.5 million were still alive at this time.

          http://jpohl.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-comparative-look-at-numbers-in-slave.html

          • GoDeep

            Thanks for the 411 Otto.

        • DocAmazing

          Slavery was such a fucked up, shitty system that there are no parallels to modern capitalism.

          Except slavery, which keeps popping up in the agricultural industry in the US, with recent examples in Florida.

    • GoDeep

      I think you can make an argument for a basic wage without drawing parallels to slavery. That argument is being successfully made in California, New Jersey, and other states.

      I know you don’t mean to give offense, but this is like Jon Stewart & the Holocaust Rule. Nothing good can come of comparing Outrage X,Y, or Z to the Holocaust.

      • jackrabbitslim

        It’s absolutely true that there are any number of persuasive and valid and superior arguments for GBI. What I may have (almost certainly) failed to articulate was that was my gut reaction to the OP. Like, holy shit, current management practices are philosophically descended from these evil-ass roots! Must provide freedom and dignity to workers!

  • Several of the slave owners’ practices, such as incentivizing workers (in this case, to get them to pick more cotton)

    I’m sure GOPertarians dream of being able to legally use the [ahem] incentives based on forms of [cough] negative stimuli employed by slave owners.

    • DrDick

      Many Harvard Business School graduates salivate over the thought.

      • Charlie

        This article is old: Caitlin is at Berkeley now.

        • DrDick

          I was referencing the folks on Wall Street and in the corporate executive offices.

  • Joe

    That does seem basically obvious — you have a large work force and over time will find ways to be most productive using them, some of the principles at least having general business implications.

    • Tristan

      Yeah, didn’t Eric Williams point out that slavery was just best practices for the bottom line back in the fucking forties? This is one of these things society’s gonna ‘rediscover’ again and again without ever really accepting the implications, isn’t it?

  • cpinva

    if you’ve ever had an opportunity to visit the james river plantations, you would know that the basic business practices employed by the slave owners go back to the mid 1600’s in America. they kept meticulous records, detailing the production of every slave they owned, how much it cost to shelter/feed/clothe/medicate each and every one of them. they didn’t necessarily invent the processes, but they neatly adapted them for use on human machines, vs the actual machines of their british industrial contemporaries.

    • cpinva

      this is actually the whole basis of cost accounting, as we practice it today.

  • Andrew Elrod

    Chandler’s elision isn’t surprising when you realize he was a du Pont heir.

    But as for other implications of scientific management, Nyland and Bruce have an interesting essay in Lichtenstein’s new collection that complicates this story of totalistic control over the worker. Very worth reading.

  • Erik

    Isn’t this the Fogel-Engerman debates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_on_the_Cross:_The_Economics_of_American_Negro_Slavery)? I recall reading some of them, and it seems to me that most historians of slavery had a pretty hard time accepting that the slave south might have been an efficient, well run system. Of course, that was 30+ years ago, so I guess business history has been a little slow catching up.

    • Erik

      Engerman was one of her dissertation advisors, so I don’t imagine she was simply rehashing old material on the subject.

      • Yes, the idea of chattel slavery in the US being a profitable system capable of competing successfully with wage labor in the 1860s has been around for a while now. It seems kind of an odd thing to argue over, however. If alternate labor systems were clearly superior in generating profits one would have expected to see more voluntary movement to such other forms of labor. Instead slavery in the US is abolished as a result of the Civil War. In Africa it is forcibly outlawed by the colonial powers. In 1874 the British made the practice illegal in the Gold Coast in the face of very strong opposition by indigenous elites. In northern Nigeria the British did not outlaw slavery until 1937. Some of the French colonies were worse. Nominally slavery was unsuccessfully abolished in Mauritania in 1905, 1981, and again 2007. But, I am told in reality that it continues to persist there.

    • Charlie

      Time on the Cross has become unfairly notorious. The study has HUGE problems but it’s still important. I was lucky to be forced to read it in my MA program, and despite its obvious flaws in methodology, it had valuable things to say. Also, Caitlin is a friend of mine, and I think she’s clearly doing a more careful “new business history” version of what Fogel and Engerman were doing, albeit with more Atlantic and technology-focused angles.

      • Erik

        Thanks. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  • Anonymous

    At least the slaves in America were fed.

    One can’t say the same thing about the Ukranians during the Holodomor. Such are the “wonders” of revolutionary Marxism, comrades.

    • “My milk is past its expiration date! Damn you, Trotsky!”

    • DrDick

      Can’t say it about the folks working for McDonalds and Walmart either, at least not on their wages. Such are the glories of capitalism, asshat.

      • Anonymous

        McDonald’s and Wal-Mart workers are undergoing a genocidal famine?

        I wish I had a time machine so you could tell all the parents of dead, starved Ukranian children that sure they have it bad, but what’s REALLY bad is having to work at McDonald’s! Oh the horror! It’s just like the GULAG!

        • Late night special on pancakes at IHOP!

        • The GULag (Main Administration of Camps)is comparable in some senses to slavery. Especially the ITLs (Corrective Labor Camps). The Soviet government recorded a little over a million inmates dying in ITLs from 1934-1953. If you include ITKs (Corrective Labor Colonies) the number reaches over 1.6 million. This number does not include deaths in transit, prisoners who died shortly after their release from the camps, or those deaths never recorded. So in total out of about 20 million prisoners to pass through ITLs and ITKs maybe 3 million or 15% perished prematurely during the reign of Stalin. Between 1937 and 1945 the annual death rate in ITLs ranged from 3.09%-17.58% with the peak reached in 1942.

          http://jpohl.blogspot.com/2005/12/human-cost-of-communism-part-iii.html

          The US is unusual in that the less than 400,000 slaves sent there from Africa had grown by natural population growth to nearly 4 million by the 1860s. In Brazil and the Caribbean the Europeans just worked people to death so that the slave populations were always shrinking. Slavery in the Caribbean had similarly high mortality rate to that of the GULag with deaths exceeding births in Jamaica by 3%-3.5% a year and in Barbados by 4%-5% a year. Slavery lasted a lot longer and the total number sent across the Atlantic was about 10 million half those sent to the GULag. But, the total premature deaths may have been greater. Certainly the percentages to die were greater. By the time of abolition there were only 1.5 million surviving slaves in Brazil out of 4 million originally sent. In Cuba there were 370,000 out of 780,000 left. And tiny Barbados had only 82,000 survivors out of 387,000.

    • These things are not really comparable. Slavery was a varied institution that last centuries and was aimed primarily at economic exploitation. The Holodomor was a two year genocide, 1932-1933, aimed at crushing the rural social base of Ukraine to prevent any nationalist movement strong enough to challenge Moscow from developing. A better comparison to slavery in the US would by the various forms of forced labor in the USSR administered by GULag and GUPVI. For instance the labor army during 1941-1948 was heavily racialized in its selection of ethnic Germans. The Holodomor has more similarities with the Shoa and other cases of genocide.

  • Cervantino

    The laissez-faire capitalist model is encouraged to seek the most cost-effective and dehumanizing forms of labor relations its era’s laws and values will allow (and them some).

    We may have evolved beyond acceptance of chattel slavery, but exploitative impulses remain in full flower.

  • Gwen

    If slaves were taught to read and write, would they have been required to attach cover sheets to their TPS reports?

  • jkay

    There’s a problem with trusting slaver accounts, especialy later and later and especially of radicalized generations. If they realized the general truth, of only slowly making money if lucky while in absurd debt from slaves and mansion while they could make more faster doing almost anything else, it would mean abandoning their way of life and being seen increasingly as traitors.

    Jefferson and Washington’s genereation seems to’ve understood, because that’s why they expected it not to last long.

  • N. Daniel

    Wow, heard this C. Rosenthal at a conference and thought immediately, “God this sounds an awful lot like F and Gs TIME ON THE CROSS.” Which I believe won a Bancroft. Ha, how funny that elite social history programs don’t give a crap about historiography anymore.

  • Anonymous Jones

    I know it’s fashionable to pile on Genovese because of his self-destructiveness and late-career careening, but I’d rather not just take your word for it on “historians since the 1970s pretty well demolished Eugene Genovese’s assertion slavery was a feudal anomaly within an emerging bourgeois capitalist economy.” And even if that is in some sense true, will the historians of the next forty years demolish what the historians of that last forty years “demolished”? Hmmm….

    Genovese surely made some mistakes, but he was shockingly smart and erudite, and I doubt he didn’t have at least a few good reasons for believing what he believed. So I also doubt demolished is the right word, but if you think it is, show me some evidence.

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