Magazine January 24, 2022, Issue

Free Markets, Not Slave Markets

African American slaves harvesting cotton (stocksnapper/Getty Images)
On the enmity between human bondage and capitalism

In 2013, the New York Times heralded a “surge of new, economically minded scholarship on slavery,” purportedly rectifying decades of neglect of this subject. This new school of thought exhibited a penchant for exaggerating its own novelty, even dubbing itself the “New History of Capitalism” (NHC) and echoing the claim of newness in books such as The Half Has Never Been Told, by Cornell’s Edward Baptist. It was an odd claim for its proponents to make.

The economic dimensions of slavery have consistently ranked among the most heavily investigated topics in the academic literature since at least 1958 — the year

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Phillip Magness — Mr. Magness, an economic historian, is a senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. He is the author of more than two dozen scholarly works on the economic dimensions of slavery and the American Civil War.

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