The Economist defends slavery

Posted on: Sat, 09/06/2014 - 15:11 By: Tom Swiss

From the "OMG are you Fing kidding me" department: The Economist -- a magazine widely respected by mainstream conservatives -- published a review of Edward Baptist's book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. The anonymous reviewer(s) actually complained that "Slaves were valuable property....slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their “hands” ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy."

The “slavery wasn’t THAT bad!” book review in The Economist, the hashtag that came from it, and some observations

History professor Will Mackintosh has an interesting explanation as to how the review survived editorial scrutiny, and why the visceral response to it seems to have taken them by surprise:

Here’s my theory: as a magazine, The Economist is perhaps the most articulate, erudite defender of the neoliberal capitalist order. They are too smart to waste their time as Laffer curve snake-oil salesmen or crude economic nationalist...the main commitment of their reporting and their commentary is to defend late modern global capitalism as an economic and moral good.... And that’s why they don’t like Baptist’s book: it demonstrates unequivocally that modern capitalism was born in blood. Let me say that again: whatever else you might say about capitalism, it took on its characteristic modern forms of capital accumulation and labor “management” in the context of American slavery. For a group of journalists with a deep, almost unarticulated commitment to modern capitalism’s fundamental benevolence, this is an uncomfortable truth indeed.

...The book has to be wrong, because if it isn’t, then capitalism isn’t an inherently moral economic system. And it has to be wrong specifically in its description of how capitalism exploits labor.... [B]ecause otherwise, the book gets uncomfortably to the reality that modern capitalism gets its increases in productivity at the expense of its workers, too.