Slavery is usually worse than you think

The men were allowed to come on deck night and day if they wished, but it was the rule to whip the Negro men if they went in the hold with the women.  Aboard the Creole, sex was apparently (and, it turned out, wrong) deemed a greater threat than slave rebellion.  Gonorrhea, according to slaveholding commonplace, was a disease “generally contracted among Negroes en route who are brought for sale.”  A number of different traders had their slaves aboard the ship, and segregating them by sex was a way to keep one slaveholder’s slaves from diminishing the value of another’s by passing a disease — or starting a pregnancy.

That is from Walter Johnson, Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market.


MR: Slavery Priors edition.

Shocking News From The World Of Science: Slavery was horrible!

And brutal sex segregation practiced almost everywhere.

It turns out one of the drivers for population growth in the high medieval ages (1000 to 1250 CE) was the trend away from slavery (Vikings sold white slaves to Arabs) and towards peasant serfdom. The reason: serfs were allowed to reproduce more than slaves were, which even in Roman times rarely had families. It wasn't the biggest factor (lack of plague, the horse collar, the iron plow and better crop yields, fewer wars, among other things were bigger) but it was a factor.

Bonus trivia: freed black slaves and black freemen in the antebellum US North had rather low reproduction rates. I think, due to their 'novelty' this is why the US northerners were not as 'racist' as their southern counterparts. Few in number = scarcity = higher in status, value, basic economics.

Of course slavery was horrible but it's been over 150 years and the blacks still won't stop complaining about it.

They can go back to their shithole countries if they don't love this one enough.


I've read some shocking things about the slave trade...and this was not one of them.

To be fair, before reading the book, TC thought the slaves were brought over on luxury cruiseliners.

Agreed. The antedote Tyler provides is not "worse than" most think.

Even if it was, you can't let a single date point define the overall institution, no matter how much that single piece of date offends our modern sensibilities. Most economic historians I've read have argued that because slavery was essentially capital, slaves were treated more benignly than how it is usually presented today. Still a terrible institution but not as bad as we are lead to believe.

You're an idiot. Let your job announce that they will no longer pay you for working there and when u try to quit, they bring armed guards to your home to beat you and your family, and your neighbors and their families so that you are compelled to come back to work. You would certainly not argue that such a situation was "not that bad." Now multiply that one year by 500 which encompasses your entire family geneology (as far back as you can conceivably remember atleast) and also includes all of your children and their children and their childrens children -- all facing the same circumstance. Truly imagine that scenario and then reply to my comment and tell me "its not that bad."

He doesn't say it's not that bad. He says "not as bad as we are led to believe" (but still terrible).

If it were true that slavery was so horrible most blacks, males anyway, were well armed enough to be able to overpower their captors, via the natural armament of a black male, why didn’t they?

You know, you are totally right.

To this day, I dont understand why Michael Brown didnt run through the hail of bullets and just beat the hell out of Officer Darren Wilson for abusing his power.....

Oh wait, according to Wilson thats exactly what happened.

So.. my racist friend, you are right.

They didn’t have the kind of modern firearms they have today back in the slavery days. You’re typical black male has a penis of a median length of 3 feet long and 3 inches in diameter. It could do real damage of they used it - if they really had incentive to use it that is.

Don't tell Hollywood!

"Django Unchained!"

"Birth of a Nation!"

What are the motives behind pulling down statues of Confederate soldiers? In VA, it's to make room for new, divisive statuary.

Richmond, VA is erecting a monument to Nat Turner who led a slave revolt that massacred 60, mostly women and children. Not a coincidence, the 1831 slave insurrection occurred within months of radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison first publishing his violence-inciting propaganda.

Yes, thank you Dick! Everyone always makes the slaves out to be the victims, when many of them got uppity and killed people. There were good people on both sides, and perhaps if Nat Turner and his ilk had been more subservient they might have been treated better.

But no, they go and kill white women and children just to prove a point. Well, Trump is in charge for 6 more years and real Americans are sick of the whining.


Extensive efforts were made to ensure slaves (and indentured servants) did not assemble or otherwise mix across plantations for fear of just what you use as your strawman. Laws against educating slaves were driven by similar concerns.

500 years lol. Do you suck at math or history. Backwoods ignant wigga.

It is possible the slave had better food and housing than their northern proletarian counterparts, but their wives and children could be sold. So there's that.

The better food and housing only refers to certain plantation economies. Sugar plantation slaves, for example, were worse off than northern factory workers in just about every way.

Northern proliterians had rights as citizens, could choose to go out west to find better opportunity, could own land, had PAYING jobs and had family, uncles friends in positions of power and influence that could help them advance.

Northern Proliteriate class was struggling to have better living conditions while slaves were not even considered people, let alone citizens.

Lets not even begin to imply that white northerners experienced the same degree of disenfranchisement as african americans just because some of them lived in squalorous conditions and had risky, low paying jobs.

That said, I do think it is an interesting point to bring up... the fact that this system will chew you up and spit you out in the name of money no matter who you are.

But again, lets not act like black people had anywhere near the number of tools to fight against economic oppression that a white northerner had.

A college freshman majoring in a humanity or a troll.

No he's a stupid liberal (redundant) who thinks black people deserve to enslave white people because of what happened all those years ago.

They all think that. Trump will save us.

^Actual right-wing thought, circa 2019

You’ve made it clear that if it were the right kind of whites you’d put up at best a perfunctory oppositon to slavery. I’ve never seen you oppose any punitive measure directed at whites- your coal dark heart is on display daily. Anything to single to the exotics how much they make you tingle.

"this system will chew you up and spit you out in the name of money no matter who you are. "

This system will lift you out of dire poverty to heights unimaginable...

"Most economic historians I've read have argued that because slavery was essentially capital, slaves were treated more benignly than how it is usually presented today."

Why does that suggest good treatment? Such arguments assume an analogy to capital like an assembly line robot in a car factory, worked relentlessly but sheltered and maintained. Not all capital is so lucky. Why is the analogy not to the drill bits used in the car factory- worked until they are too worn to serve at the pace demanded and then discarded?


You are seeing this guys argument for what it is... a racist attempt to...once again... dehumanize black people and somehow imply that "the life of a machine isnt that tough." You just show up, do what you are told, work hard and in return, you get fed and taken care of.

Except, black people arent machines and working a human like a machine against the demands of that persons own agency is not something we should ever think of as "not the worse thing in the world" or "not as bad as we are led to believe."

Put the humanity back in your arguments people!!! Stop talking about robots and "capital" and start talking about it as if this happened to your Grandma. I doubt that if ur grandma or mom was raped or threatened to be raped...or not raped and threatend to be sold down river if she didnt work for free doing grueling manual labor...that you would just pass it off as something...."not as bad as we are led to believe"

Makes no difference who it is when objectively assessing relative degrees of badness. 2nd degree murder isn't as bad as 1st degree murder despite both being bad.

I think there is value in discussing capital, because that is how slave-traders thought about it, and (according to the comments below) how the British government insured it. Question: Are answers to the question "Why did transatlantic slavery happen the way it happened?" to be found through economic arguments?

This is the book I that first introduced me to original (and only point- the other comments are not mine.)

and here is one snippit from their book via wiki....

"Fogel and Engerman asserted that slavery had a reciprocal economic benefit for slave owners and slaves. They wrote, "[S]lave owners expropriated far less than generally presumed, and over the course of a lifetime a slave field hand received approximately ninety percent of the income produced."(p. 5-6) They were estimating the value of housing, clothing, food and other benefits received by the slaves and argued that they lived as well in material terms as did free urban laborers; life was difficult for both classes.[3]"

Things are more nuanced than they seem and like anythng else, economics made counterintuitive arguments about slavery.

Except they weren't allowed to leave and would be severely punished if they attempted to do so. What is the value in "material terms" of not being whipped and beaten for trying to leave your job?

The single worst fear of every parent in the world is the loss of a child. American chattel slavery allowed any slave owner to sell, assault or kill any child they wanted to under the flimsiest of pretenses.

My boss not being allowed to beat me is nice. My boss not being allowed to SELL MY CHILDREN has almost immeasurable value.

I guess that works. For plants.

Of course those answers should be found through Economics and I am not against applying a mathmatical treatment to slavery.... all i am saying is that when drawing conclusions about the model, remember to interject the humanity back into the analysis so that you dont think the facts on the paper run the full gamut of important things to consider

Slave treatment is not comparable to factory robots but rather working livestock. They were an economic asset whose injury reduced their rent and capital value.

Here is a contemporary account from a non-apologist, William T. Sherman, later Major General, US Army:

"Then said [Governor of Louisiana] Moore : " Give us your own views of daily life you see it here and throughout the South."

"I answered in effect that the people of Louisiana were hardly responsible for slavery, as they had inherited it ; that I found two distinct conditions of slavery, domestic and field hands. The domestic slaves, employed by the families, were probably better treated than any slaves on earth; but the condition of the field-hands was different, depending more on the temper and disposition of their masters and overseers than were those employed about the house;" and I went on to say that, "were I a citizen of Louisiana, and a member of the Legislature, I would deem it wise to bring the legal condition of the slaves more near the status of human beings under all Christian and civilized governments. In the first place, I argued that, in sales of slaves made by the State, I would forbid the separation of families, letting the father, mother, and children, be sold together to one person, instead of each to the highest bidder. And, again, I would advise the repeal of the statute which enacted a severe penalty for even the owner to teach his slave to read and write, because that actually qualified properly and took away a part of its value ; illustrating the assertion by the case of Henry Sampson, who had been the slave of Colonel Chambers, of Rapides Parish, who had gone to California as the servant of an officer of the army, and who was afterward employed by me in the bank at San Francisco. At first he could not write or read, and I could only afford to pay him one hundred dollars a month ; but he was taught to read and write by Reilley, our bank-teller, when his services became worth two hundred and fifty dollars a month, which enabled him to buy his own freedom and that of his brother and his family."

"What I said was listened to by all with the most profound attention ; and, when I was through, some one (I think it was Hr. Hyams) struck the table with his fist, making the glasses jingle, and said, " By God, he is right I " and at once he took up the debate, which went on, for an hour or more, on both sides with ability and fairness. Of course, I was glad to be thus relieved, because at the time all men in Louisiana were dreadfully excited on questions affecting their slaves, who constituted the bulk of their wealth, and without whom they honestly believed that sugar, cotton and rice, could not possibly be cultivated. "
--Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, Vol I

Here is a comparison made in 1910:

"Could not the African slave do as much? In fact, is not this whole position exactly that of the negro slave? He, too, was guaranteed his sustenance; he, too, was allowed to keep and spend the extra money he made by working overtime; but he was not allowed to better his condition, to engage in trade, to invest it, to change his lot in life. Precisely what makes a slave is that he is allowed no use of productive capital to make wealth on his own account."

-Socialism; a speech delivered in Faneuil hall, February 7th, 1903, by Frederic J. Stimson

Livestock are capital and they are generally treated pretty abysmally...

I can believe that most of the wealth generated by slaves went to feeding the slaves themselves as most workers in the 1800s were not productive enough to produce too much more than subsistence, but that isn’t saying much. Similarly, most of the calories eaten by cows go to keep the cow alive. Slaves were much worse off than free unskilled laborers, who earned the equivalent of high-four-figures annually in today’s dollars in 1800s America while working far fewer hours than slaves.

@Zaua - you're a skolar, right? So you're aware that during mass transport of people before the age of antibiotics (think Armenians and the so-called Armenian Genocide) that up to 25% of people died in transit? And this held for Turkish troops in WWI. Disease is why. Is this deliberate? Not really, except for the deliberate act of transporting people against their will. Solve for the equilibrium as our host would say...

"wrong" rather than "wrongly"? Come now.

You may have thought that Alavert was terrible for the inhumane punishments, substandard living arrangements, and the likelihood that you’d be literally worked to death. But did you know that you were also segregated by sex and forbidden from sexual contact whilst being imported and sold? Truly terrible.

*slavery. Darn mobile typing!

Ask your doctor if alavert is right for you.

Having a venereal disease or being pregnant on top of that would be worse, actually.

And in a nod to Lara Trump, 'immigration is usually worse than you think,' at least compared to committing genocide or being conquered after years of total war.

Such is life in Trump's America.

In Brazil, President Captain Bolsonaro has vowed to allow slaves to carry guns to kill criminals.

This is the impersonator. Brazil outlawed slavery more than 6 scores and a half ago throught the Lei Áurea (the Golden Law). Without a war. Slavery is antithetica to Brazil's character. Brazil's Anthem to the Proclamation of the Republic even says:
"We cannot believe that in another age

Slaves there were in so noble a country.

Now the rosy glow of dawn

Greets brothers, and not hostile tyrants.

We are all equal! In the future, united,

We will know how to take up

Our august banner that, pure,

Glows triumphant from the altar of the fatherland!"

TR you a skolar, right? So you know Brazil only abolished slavery late in the 19th century, about the last place in the Americas...

"So you know Brazil only abolished slavery late in the 19th century"
In 1888, i.e. "more than 6 scores and a half ago".
It is sad to see the Black Legend which has been created to slander Brazil. Brazil abolished slavery without a war because slavery caused moral revulsion in Brazilians. Compare and contrast with America's Confederacy. In 1888, many Brazilian provinces had already abolished slavery. Brazil's Army refused to hunt down fleeing slaves. Brazil only became independent in 1822; the first Brazilian-born Emperor was crowned in 1840. Slavery was are remanescent of Portuguese colonialism. Brazilian Whites were every bit as victims of Portuguese colonialism as Brazilian Blacks were. As the anthem says, "We cannot believe that in another age slaves there were in so noble a country."

White identity politics: Identity politics has traditionally been the province of non-dominant groups (blacks, LGBTQ people, etc.). For those in the dominant group, whites in America, their identity is taken for granted precisely because it’s not threatened. Or wasn't until the combination of demographic shifts and demagogic politicians.

How does this relate to the treatment of slaves? In the South, whites in many places felt threatened precisely because whites were not the dominant group in terms of numbers. For example, in the mid-18th century, blacks outnumbered whites in South Carolina by two or three to one. In response, South Carolina enacted a rigid slave code to keep slaves “in due subjection and obedience.” The slave code gave slaveholders more power to regulate, control, and punish their slaves. It also prohibited slaves from assembling in groups, learning to read, playing drums, or earning their own money.

Today, white identity politics might not result in the adoption of a national slave code, but it magnifies the fear that whites are under threat as the dominant group and increases racial resentment and animosity toward those who pose the threat.

I am not saying you are wrong here...but I would just like to add a piece of context that is missing from the argument you put forward.

Slave codes were not just a matter of whites being threatened and outnumbered. It was also a way to ensure that their businesses would continue to thrive. It was a way to institutional the subjigation of blacks and memorialize their status as "cattle" or wild beasts of the field.

My point is thay the black codes were not just social in intent and effect but economic also. It reinforced the rights of whites to use blacks in any way they saw fit towards their profit maximization goals.

"sex was apparently deemed a greater threat than slave rebellion."

What the hell????? This ignores the fact that sex is one way that rebellions happen. Obviously if people are forming close ties and bonds with each other then they are more likely to stand up for one another.

This is a line I find highly offensive as an African American. It almost accepts as fact the racist and stereotypical view of African Americans that they are just oversexualized beasts of the field looking to hump one another with no feelings or passions. How the hell else would you seperate SEX AND INTAMACY from the desire to DEFEND YOUR PARTNER OR FAMILY. The only explanation is a racist view of black folk.

Are we sneakily implying that black people dont want to take care of their families?? That black men and women will simply make love and feel no duty or love worth fighting for as a result of that connection? Even this line which i assume was not written with the intent to hurt, has the effect of dehumanizing and marginalizing black people.

White people, take notes... this is what its like to be a black person in society. Always catching jabs, even from well meaning folks. We are the collateral damage to all of the "wests" ideas, hopes and advancements.

You must be a lot of fun at parties.

gonhorrea is a Victorian code word for "cost"

You’re an idiot and probably not even black but yet another gangly white nerd libertarian like all the other cucks on this blog

Don't you think that allowing slaves to have sex on board ship would be dangerous - they would puncture holes in the ship with their giant erect black cocks.

Perhaps the sentence would make more sense (aside from the non-sensical parenthtical) if you read the entire thing, particularly the part about "aboard the Creole". One of the better known slave rebellions on board a ship occurred on the Creole. The rebellious captives made it to Nassau in the Bahamas and most of them gained their freedom there. Interestingly, though, the slave owners were ultimately reimbursed for their "commerical loss" by the British.

Thanks for the info? Not sure how this adds meaning or context to why the author seems to be saying that sex and rebellion were mutually exclusive matters for black slaves

The line communicates the cruel economic calculus of the slave trader. It tells us what they were concerned with. Why do you shoot the messenger?

The messenger is giving his assesment of what the intentions of the slave traders were.....and in so doing, exposes his own thinking on the issue. I am saying that slave traders did not calculate in this manner. The purpose of not allowing black men to socialize or congregate with black women was not because they were concerned about blacks having sex. It was because THEY WERE CONCERNED ABOUT REBELLION!!!!

This guy is saying the slave traders were more concerned with sex than rebellion but the issues are one in the same. I am analyzing what has to be happening in a persons mind to not see the issues as DIRECTLY related to one another.

Do you see where I am coming from now?

Dude sorry but I was just trying to have a rational debate based on logic but I see you are nothing but a triggered snowflake. Please, if you are serious in really learning about the history of slavery in the US go read Douglass North, go read Econlib. Guys like North or Bryan Caplan have a lot to teach you. Try to be humble, just because you are African American doesn’t mean you automatically “know” more than everyone.

The purpose of not allowing black men to socialize or congregate with black women was not because they were concerned about blacks having sex. It was because THEY WERE CONCERNED ABOUT REBELLION!!!!

Couldn't it have been both? I mean...that's a plausible statement, but frankly I'm more inclined to trust the professional historian's take when he mentions issues of STD's and pregnancy (which are big risks associated with sex in any context) than the maladjusted blog comment rando.

This is an empirical question. You apparently just assume that people having sex results in rebellion, but it could very well be the opposite since rebellions generally end in the death of the rebels. The question here is about the state of mind of the ship's captain. If there are letters in which the ship's captain says sex has to be prevented to avoid pregnancies and STDs then that's pretty strong evidence of the reason for the rules.

It's dumb to just make up a theory about sex causing rebellion and then assume it's true. It could be but what's the evidence?

And why does it have anything to do with race? If the author was talking about white slaves he would just assume sex led to rebellion?

I’ve never had sex BTW so I just want to understand how this works.

Well I have had sex with your mom of course, but only a few thousand times, not sure if that counts

No it doesn't

I see that if the historian has over-emphasized or invented the sex reasoning or under-emphasized or concealed the rebellion reasoning, then this is probably for racist reasons and one could reasonably take offense. I don't see your point if the historian is just reporting what he read in "the slave-traders handbooks", and if that is simply what he is doing I am glad he isn't adding speculation. All I have to go on is the sentence Tyler quoted. Do you have something else that tells you that the historian is deceiving us?

I am assuming that this is the historians assesment

If slave traders only hold the slaves temporarily before selling them to various owners, wouldn't they obviously be more concerned about STDs and pregnancy, which would cost them money, than some far off threat caused by stronger communal bonds?

Communal bonds was not a far off threat.

The slave journey took anywhere from 6 months to about 3 or 4 weeks depending on the time period and the ship. If you are a crew of 15 or so slavers carrying 150 or so slaves that are former warriors, scared and ready to fight for their lives, you are going to do everything you can yo make sure that they do not form bonds or communities with each other. Communal bonding of slaves is a much more serious and active threat to the succesful slave voyage than stds. Also, part of the reason they did not want the black men to be with the women is because THEY themselves (meaning the slavers) wanted to have sex with them. They raped the women on the boats with reckless abandon.

Furthermore, it was a tactic to emasculate the men.... they effectively made them watch as they had their way with people the men felt a duty to protect

This is a hilarious attempt at gaslighting. It’s like this cosplay black guy doesnt realize everyone is aware of black illegitimacy rates.

Millennial Buzzword Bingo

I have "gaslighting" and "cosplay" now, just need "kombucha", "woke", and "hashtag" for the win! I mean FTW!

"Slavery is usually worse than you think" has got to be true, because it compares an intellectual model to a lived experience.

The flu is worse than we think, even if we've had one. The mind sheds memory of pain which doesn't affect us personally and in the current moment.

With American slavery we don't even have the memory. It all has to be artificially constructed, guessed.

I'm sure we all shirk from painful possibilities in that process.


Very well said and an extremly thoughtful response. I would just like to add that

Particularly, and unfortunately for African Americans, not all of slavery needs to be artificially constructed. Some of the most harmful yet profitable practices from slavery were continued on for several successive generations of African Americans. Some of the most debilitating effects of slavery were carried forward in the form of jim crow segregation, economic disenfranchisement, disproportianate sentences and arrests, housing and financial redlining, vote suppression and the likes. For black people, the wound of slavery is still open and therefore, a present pain from a hard lived time.

That's true too!

What is profitable about those things?

In a military industrial society, crimminality and war drive innovation.

Also, choking off the roads that lead to wealth for a certain segment of society reserves that wealth for the other segments.

Lastly, think about how big the ...for lack of a better term... crime industry is. Lawyers, judges, police, prisons, cop cars and other vehicles, guns and ammo, politicians and policy makers. A large number of people are employed under the pretenses of racial hostility that existed then and well into today. So yes, everything i mentioned is extremly profitable to the us

Misery is worse than we think.

Here's a better example of why slavery is worse than you think. The children of slaves would often die of neglect while left in the slave cabins as their parents were forced to work in the fields.
Imagine being whipped into leaving your one-year-old toddler in a wooden shack to go pick cotten and then come home to find they had drowned in the nearby creek.

No way that’s true. See how this issue gets twisted to make it sound worse than it was? Why would owners want to risk their investments like that? The children would grow up to be productive slaves, owners would treat them like calf’s or piglets not just disregard them. You seriously need to read Douglass North’s paper about Slavery as a capital investment.

Dude, shutup. Certain people should not have an opinion on stuff. You are one of them.

You act like you have never heard of a piece of equipment being mistreated, overworked, neglected, left in bad repair etc. Not all managers and companies take care of their equipment.... and the ones that do often only do so because there are regulations in place that require it.

When there are virtually no enforcable rules on hpw to treat a BLACK HUMAN, what the hell makes you think they were supremly motivated by the incentives to take good care of their assets. That argument doesnt even make sense. Mistreatment was neceasary to compell slaves to work in the forst place. U r as racist as they come.

You're responding to satire

Is Mark Jacobs not also satire? I find it so hard to tell on this blog.

Not he’s just a wigger like Michael Rappaport.

Without endorsing any particular argument, do you truly believe that managers largely only attempt to preserve capital because of regulations? Really? Seriously?

Onto the topic at hand, I think slavery was immoral. I have no clue whether slave owners were heavily motivated to ensure baby slaves grew up into adult slaves, but have no real desire to say that they did because it is beyond the point. It doesn't matter whether the material conditions of slavery were worse or better than generally thought; the important matter is that humans have a need to be free.

In a sense, yes, i do believe regulation compells managers to preserve the capital they use for their own benefit. I believe in the tragedy of the commons and in market failure and in monopolies l...and under all these circumstances, absent regulation, you have situations where managers may not treat their inputs or capital as they otherwise would if under a regulatory body

Raising a baby to adulthood is a long-term investment that takes at least 15 years. And in the interim it means your female slaves aren't going to be working at full capacity because they need to take care of their children.
In addition slave children would tend to be born malnourished and underweight. No doubt that freshly imported adult males from Africa were in far better condition than slaves raised on plantations. And probably cost a lot less than the investment needed to bring up a slave from childhood.

Did slave children tend to be malnourished and underweight, or is that merely your supposition?

When discussing history, Hazel has never been known to let an absence of actual historical facts slow her down

What? You think that pregnant slaves were fed and cared for as well as their white mistresses?

From what I have read from J. Marion Sims "work" on neonatal tetanus, birth weights were not particularly low in his reported autopsies. If I recall correctly, these autopsies showed higher birth weights on average than those in European charity hospitals (per Google) a few decades later.

Do you have a link or something for this?

Adam Smith describes it in his Lectures on Jurisprudence, according to this discussion about Adam Smith's views on slavery here:
It's hard to find Lectures on Jurisprudence online, but I did manage to read the actual text via a google book or something.

Up until now I thought it was better than I thought, thanks.

I was under the impression it was exactly as bad as I suspected it was, and I still think that.

By this example how much of "history" is now being composed and/or read in terms of "comparative worses" ("what WE went through is worse that what YOU went through!")?

(Graduate degree program in Comparative Worseness or Comparative Suffering, anyone? --Ivy League grad programs in same?)

Was the life of forced servitude of African captives WORSE in the antebellum South or in Africa in the Congo Free State?

Was the slavery imposed on Europeans by Europeans for the two millennia (or three millennia . . . four?) prior to c. 1500 CE qualitatively worse (better?) than that imposed on Africans by (African sellers and) European traders over the course of four centuries in our modern era?

How well calibrated, more or less exactly, are the metrics of "comparative suffering"?

A decade in the Gulag vs. a month in Nanking under the Japanese?

Life in Stalin-starved Ukraine or in the Khmer Rouge's Kampuchea?

Et cetera.

How dependable can such metrics be?

I guess it takes a certain maturity to accept a story of misery without trying to counter it.

Why accept "empathy" uncritically as a necessary social category when the experience of human suffering is as amply ubiquitous as it appears?

How much "maturity" consists in what elsewhere might qualify as "historical poor-mouthing"? Cf. Cioran's anecdote (R. Howard, tr.): "Picpus Cemetery. A young man and a lady past her prime. The caretaker explains that this cemetery is reserved for descendants of those who were guillotined. The lady blurts out, 'But that's who we are!' With what an expression! After all, she might have been telling the truth. Yet that provocative tone immediately put me on the executioner's side."

I submit that "empathy" fails us decisively because egalitarianism itself is a glaring lie born of untethered idealism.

Empathy isn't limited to humans. All us mammals do it.

Note to Cat: exhibit a little human empathy and stop killing those empathic mice! (--or just don't let on that you enjoy the activity so much, a concerned sociologist might take note.)

Dog: leave Cat alone! Do NOT molest Cat! (Leave plague-carrying rats to frolic undisturbed, too, you vicious, empathy-challenged canine!)

(I don't know what the dog or the cat think, but I feel better.)

If you must insult the character of dogs, I must say good day to you sir!

So black people and white people are different species, like cats and dogs?

I think not: which is to say, I continue to regard anonymous's prior assertion that empathy is an intrinsic mammalian attribute as a dubious assumption.

The post title looks like a trigger warning.

Are GMU students habitual MR readers?

Let's hope not.

Reminder: importing browner people to do work you can't pay your countrymen enough to do never ends well.

Also: there's no such thing as cheap labor.

ANother guy who could use with more time spent at Econlib to get some knowledge

"My little brown workers illustrate the principle of comparative advantage."

[is set on fire]

Many cultures castrated their male human slaves. That seems worse than the whipping described. I've heard castrating slaves was more prevalent in the Middle East, where in the US, that was less common.

Obviously, castrated slaves don't leave bloodline descendants, and the US antebellum slave population seems to have many surviving bloodline descendants.

"Worse than you think" implies that prior to reading this post, we had some rosier picture of slave life.

It's trivial to observe that when people "think about" about slavery, at least out loud, they are often thinking about something else altogether - so I am not sure we should be so hard on economists and the dispassionate language they use when they *think* about it.

Still, the weirdest thought of all, no matter your politics, is that we should have had the ripple effects of the sin and the anguish it caused even people who didn't directly experience it; and also enjoy the reconciliation, and the hoped-for forgetting - all in the span of a couple lifetimes. But that too seems very American: always in a hurry, can't stand to be denied.

Slavery and colonialism lowered African infant mortality, so there's that.

I bought it. It sounds interesting. The comments don't seem to have anything to do with the book, which is interesting as well. I've just finished an excellent book by Francis Fukuyama called The Origins of Political Order which, among many other things, deals with how some governments used slavery.

What's really interesting is that immediately after the slaves were freed in 1866 a number of them were assembled into military units and sent out to the frontier to kill the American natives, which they proudly did. Evidently, it's more evil to retain ownership of a man and force him to work than it is to kill him and his family and take his property, at least in the eyes of the typical post-Puritan American.


A disgraceful shame on our people. When we get reparations from white people, we will also pay pur debt to the native american families that suffered under our rifles.... but lets also not forget that we did it in the name of, and on the orders of the US govt.

Chuck, I'm not following you. Are you saying that the slaves were freed by North in order to have troops to fight the Indians? I think many people know the story of the Buffalo Soldiers, but what we did to the Indians would have happened even without them. I do think that was a disgrace, but so do a lot people today. If you're saying that people who were for freeing the slaves countenanced the destruction of the native tribes and were hypocrites, I agree, but that's not news. Did you just discover that?

Lol wigga you ain’t getting shit- except maybe my nuts in yo’ face when I dunk on you. And maybe an illegimate kid when I bust in yo’ land whale wife.

I found a master's thesis paper held in the Maryland state archives to be illuminating in seeing how slavery developed (as law/culture) without salacious narrative so many are prone toward.

Ross M. Kimmel , 1974

Yes, terrible things happened to slave. But it was no different than what happens to any group that is placed outside the protection of recourse via the law. As evolved in colonial Maryland, a slave was one whose condition was lifelong and inheritable. This contrasted to indentured servants who were similarly treated, but only for the term of their contact. In time, the assumption was that a person of African descent was a slave unless proven otherwise. Slavery evolved due to economic pressures to retain workers. The law was "perverted" to support this economic need by the wealthy land owners. To which, unscrupulous owners force indentured white women into marriages with slaves since she followed his condition as long as married and her children would be slaves keeping her on the plantation even if she became free.

In an additional economic truth, indentured servants were often treated worse and worked harder since as their contract neared its end, the master's interest in the continued health of the indentured person waned. Damaging a slave in such a manner was an financial loss to the owner.

Some black folks didn't like their personal conditions under slavery, we can be pretty sure from their efforts to avoid it. But how do we know how other black folks felt about it? Maybe their personal, specific conditions had benefits (sport of like being in the military) that made up for the hassles. Maybe it was better than the real-life alternative (rather than theoretical possibilities or what some one else had)? I doubt that being a black person in America today qualifies anyone to know how black folks thought and felt back in the day.
I wouldn't like people shooting at me but I know a few people from WW 2 who felt that it was, on balance, better than the alternative, for them personally. It is also well known that at least some street criminals look forward to their predictable periods in incarceration where they have benefits not available on the "street". My point being that while I don't personally think slavery was overall a big plus for most slaves, no one today really knows how the people involved felt about it (other than those who obviously expressed their views). Arguments against it based on what black folks back in the day must have felt, thought, and wanted in every case, are arguments from ignorance. (To repeat, this is not to say slavery should be restored or wasn't undesirable for other reasons).

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