Slavery: The “Broken Window” of American Economic History

Source: Mises Institute.

“The New History of Capitalism is astoundingly popular. Yet the assumption that slavery made a significant economic contribution to America’s development is untenable. Slavery performed exceptionally as a pollutant during its heyday. Instead of energizing the economy, it created an environment that induced stagnation and inefficiency. Left-wing historians are fascinated by slavery, so they should study it objectively. Then they will admit that the unseen costs of slavery exceed its perceived economic contributions.”

You might say that the whole nation suffered as a result of slavery, meaning that the consequences were not endured by slaves alone. The legacy of slavery, then, is universal.

13 thoughts on “Slavery: The “Broken Window” of American Economic History

  1. Slavery towards the end was indeed counter to a good economy..

    Yet, the Deep South would have been a poor backwater without forced labor in a disease ridden, tropical climate.

    I agree that the nation suffered after the Civil War. Not because of slavery per se, but rather the notion that White Supremacy could not abide by Blacks as co-equals for another century. We created an underclass that still exists, though improvements are gaining traction.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. As a bit of a history buff it is my opinion that, in general historians (regardless of “leanings”) have gotten it right. Early it was absolutely the engine of the economy and became less so over decades until it was counterproductive. The damage has yet to be repaired and not sure why diversion boy went down this road…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Maybe historians have gotten it right, but I’ll bet this is the first time you have seen opportunity cost used to explain the economic consequences of slavery. In particular, slavery could not have been “absolutely the engine of the economy” at any time according to the broken window fallacy.


    2. RE: “Yet, the Deep South would have been a poor backwater without forced labor in a disease ridden, tropical climate.”

      That is exactly the concept the article disputes.


      1. Yes and no. It addresses that slavery may have delayed mechanization, but until the early 1800’s, few such breakthroughs had been invented.

        You still had to endure tough, hot, disease prone environments by hand, mule or other basic farming techniques.

        Disease was a real big problem. Especially yellow fever and malaria. In New Orleans there was a time when some free folks would purposefully contract Yellow Fever, and if they survived, they would be valuable employees with immunity.

        The South needed medicine and eventually air conditioning to be livable and commercially viable. Office buildings were a tough environment in major cities until A/C. Not that other advances earlier didn’t help, but agricultural labor was dangerous in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. RE: “The South needed medicine and eventually air conditioning to be livable and commercially viable.”

          If that were true, people wouldn’t have lived or worked in the South, but a sizable number did.

          I take it, though, you are claiming the South needed slavery to be productive because the region wasn’t industrialized. I just can’t see how that makes any sense.

          Plus, the contention is entirely besides the point of the article, which asserts that slavery itself impeded economic vitality through the mechanism of opportunity costs.


      2. My ancestors farmed in competition with the larger, slave based plantation in that ‘disease ridden, tropical climate’ in Louisiana, but there were just as many slaves in Virginia which was no more tropical then than now.

        Note though that even in Louisiana, the infant mortality among slaves was lower and their life expectancy exceeded that of northern industrial workers.

        But getting back to the efficiency, I know that the plantation owners were more wealthy than my ancestor farmers, but I really doubt that the difference was proportionate. Was a 2000 acre slave based plantation as productive as 20 100 acre family farms? I wonder if it is known?


        1. “ Note though that even in Louisiana, the infant mortality among slaves was lower and their life expectancy exceeded that of northern industrial workers.”

          I don’t doubt that, but I would love to see a cite.

          However, a slave baby was worth thousands to the owner. Especially after the trans-Atlantic trade was halted. And the fact is that the bulk of factories in the North were manned by immigrants whose influence on working conditions was non-existent and packed tenement housing was not conducive to health or life. And the flow of immigrants was endless for decades. One Irishman dies, 10 more replacements to pick from at no cost except the daily wage.

          In addition, of course, is that your ancestors were free and working hard in tough conditions that at least paid them commensurate with their risks and labor.

          One more thing, as referred to in the Mississippi Declaration of Secession, African slaves had some immunity to tropical conditions that the Europeans didn’t.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Sickle cell anemia, in the carriers, does provide some protection against malaria.

            The cite would require men to reread Walter E Williams books, of Thomas Sowells, it was in one of those, But I will leave it to you to read those books. It would do you a lot of good.


  2. The way I see it is the affects of slavery are being heavily over analyzed to make a political argument. It was an acceptable way of life at the time. Many nations practiced slavery for various reasons, even in Africa where black slave labor was gathered and sold to buyers by black vendors. Here it was agriculture or industrial labor, in Egypt it was construction. If you want apologies or reparations, get it from the supplier, duh. All in all, black people have heavily benefited in the long run in the US versus any African standards of living that would have been the generational outcome. It’s over and has been for a long time. Stop trying to find a boogeyman amongst those that had no part of it now!!!


    1. The effects of slavery were codified into law, contracts, customs and culture for a century after the Civil War.

      1965 is the starting point of recognizing Blacks as full citizens, not 1865.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Strange, I thought this conversation was about “slavery”, not civil rights. Slavery was over and done with 155 years ago. Get over it.


        1. Your misunderstanding of facts, is once again, not surprising.

          Slavery may have ended, but the cultural effects have it are still apparent today.

          But seeing as you don’t believe, I will waste no more time is trying to explain it to you.

          Liked by 2 people

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