Why The Economist Endorsed Slavery

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So the Economist fucked up yesterday, posting a review of a book called “Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” which had this whopper of an excerpt:

Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.

And I think I know why that happened, really.
Well, first off this review was an “online extra,” which in terms of most big magazines these days means “extra content that we don’t really look at.”  They’re basically blogs, and sometimes people get paid for this and sometimes people don’t, but certainly nobody’s looking too closely at it.  So you had a throwaway article that slipped under the radar.  That has to be taken into context.
Still.  Someone had to glance at it.  So why did this pass muster?
See, the thing about slavery in the South – and perhaps one of its greatest horrors – is that it was, above all else, a business.  Why were people enslaving other humans and forcing them into slave labor?  Well, it was profitable.   You had a lot of people making large amounts of money off of it.
So like any business, they found ways to keep refining it.  A slave escaped?  Let’s close up that security hole.  Slaves don’t have a lot of motivation to work?  Let’s find ways to terrorize them into being more efficient.  Say, how much cotton are those guys picking, anyway? We can’t improve what we can’t measure!  So let’s start weighing in, setting quotients, looking for ways to get better yield!
And the blind spot of the Economist is that it thinks all businessmen are good people.  It thinks all business is good.  And so when someone said, “Hey, these guys who were doing everything that businessmen do right are being maligned!” they shrugged and said Yeah, sure, and let it pass.  Because a guy in a suit who’s squeezing profits out of people with reliable, established business practices?
How can he be evil?
Look at the whole of the review, and it’s pretty much a gut reflex of “Why, these men aren’t so different than me, in what they were doing!  And yet they’re being treated like they’re villains!”  Except, you know, you can be a businessman with great practices and still be a scumbag.  It’s called war profiteering.  It’s called slavery.  It’s called all sorts of things, and yes, it’s still business, because capitalism is not an unfettered good.
In fact, if you look at slavery, it was a very fettered evil.

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