The slaves of General Thomas F. Drayton, 1862 © Henry P. Moore | Wikimedia Commons
CapitalismEssaysRaceRace/isms

Slaves: The Capital that Made Capitalism

A re-post

This post, adapted from a lecture in the team-taught course “Rethinking Capitalism” at The New School for Social Research and first published last year, is being reposted today to provide critical insight into today’s headlines. Slavery was central to the development of the American political economy. Ott reviews the recent scholarship that shows how it came to be that Black lives haven’t mattered. -J.G.

Racialized chattel slaves were the …

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Family of African American slaves on Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, circa 1862. © Timothy H. O’Sullivan | learnnc.org
CapitalismEssaysRace

Slaves: The Capital that Made Capitalism

Racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism. While most theories of capitalism set slavery apart, as something utterly distinct, because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage, new historical research reveals that for centuries, a single economic system encompassed both the plantation and the factory.

At the dawn of the industrial age commentators like Rev. Thomas Malthus could not envision that capital — an asset that is used but not consumed in the production of goods and services — could compound and diversify its forms, increasing productivity and engendering economic growth. Yet, ironically, when Malthus penned his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, the economies of Western Europe already had crawled their way out of the so-called “Malthusian trap.” The New World yielded vast quantities of “drug foods” like tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar for world markets. Europeans worked a little bit harder to satiate their hunger for these “drug foods.” …

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