They blame slavery, but...

Letters to the Editor

They blame slavery, but...

Thursday, June 20, 2019

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In the age of information scholars should not be making unfounded claims, because their arguments will be easily debunked. Yet, due to their influence, journalists enable the spread of misinformation.

One common cliché is that England was built on the backs of enslaved Africans. Such musings hint that the speaker lacks even a cursory understanding of economics. The success of a country is hinged on a preponderance of factors and not a few major enterprises.

Slavery acted as a source of capital for British industries; therefore, Britain's participation in the slave trade was directly correlated with the rise of commerce. However there is a litany of reasons as to why Britain became prosperous. So, though banks grew as a result of the slave trade, the British banking system was not successful, because of slavery.

If the institutional and legal innovations undergirding the banking system were deficient, then entrepreneurs would not have been able to exploit the opportunity presented by the slave trade. Moreover, a surplus held by banks serves no utility when clients are not acquiring loans to innovate and expand businesses.

For example, the British Industrial Revolution would be non-existent had it not been for innovators and a facilitative State. Inevitably, the slave trade was just an option that British capitalists maximised. Slavery obviously enhanced the British economy, but it is not the overriding reason for the success of Britain.

Another error with the argument from slavery is that proponents often speak as though slavery explains the modern world. Human flourishing occurs when ordinary people are able to exert their talents and ameliorate living conditions. Slavery and empire building do not create mass-based flourishing, since elites overwhelmingly benefit from these protectionist systems. Economists give a range of reasons to explain modernity from the institutional norms of the Western world to environmental factors and liberal ideas. Slavery was simply an economic practice like agriculture, with pros and cons, and cannot explain the rise of the West.

Interestingly, slavery's impact on modern-day Britain is more disadvantageous than beneficial. Financing for the slave trade had the effect of crowding out more efficient sectors. Creative British entrepreneurs influenced by the gains of the slavery-spent resources on the slave trade that could have been used for industrial development; hence retarding growth. Studies such as Coelho (1973) and Thomas (1968) have shown that the costs of slavery in the British West Indies were absorbed by British citizens.

On the other hand, descendants of slaves living in Jamaica are better off than citizens living in Ghana and Nigeria whose ancestors were not enslaved. Some argue that slavery hampered Jamaica's development, but this is a faulty proposition. Jamaica was originally inhabited by the Tainos, who were later exterminated by the Spanish. In 1655, the British consolidated their power in Jamaica and went on to establish a plethora of institutions. Blacks were imported to Jamaica as slaves and throughout slavery, white Englishmen were responsible for development, until Jamaicans were granted Independence in 1962. Up until then the British built institutions in Jamaica along with providing the rule of law.

Racism, however, was the major downside of British rule. Since the British did not usurp a Jamaican State initiated by blacks in 1655, one cannot logically argue that Britain retarded development, because there was no prior development. Without Europeans invading Jamaica the country would be populated by Tainos. Furthermore if blacks were never transferred to Jamaica as slaves, more than likely Jamaicans would be living in some indigent African country.

Politicians must be blamed for any problem evident in the country, they and not the British facilitate corruption and garrison politics. Slavery is an excuse promoted by Jamaican politicians and intellectuals to obfuscate their role in the country's decline.

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