Saturday, December 1, 2007

Essay on Slavery and Economics

The Economics of Black Diamonds

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As a slave descendent scavenges through his vague story (history) books and analyzes hear say, he simply seeks knowledge of what exactly happened to his forbearers. Were they really primitive savages or were they (or rather we) of less ability than those who enslaved us? One can not develop a full sense of self or identity alone from the achievements of the few celebrated Washington Carvers or the controversial Malcolm X’s. This inquiry has created a market for research seeking the truth of our past. Yet after a deeper study of this subject on slavery, focused on the African transatlantic trade, we only seem to find the obvious: capitalism! It is what motivated the European colonies in the Americas to rely on the labor of slaves of African descent; it was business.

Karl Marx wrote, “…the colonisation of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby, to the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development."[i] To give justice to Marx’s commentary, one must have an understanding of Europe’s medieval economics. Many economic historians attribute the enclosures as a starting point, which coined the growth of market economies in approximately 1450 a.d. In brief, enclosures were the privatization of land to be used to supply the market; rather than meet the communal needs of those who pastured it.[ii] Without land to nourish the peasants, they transformed into the proletariat seeking refuge within the Feudal System.[iii]

The feudal system comprised of a relationship between the peasant’s labor (known as the serf) and the aristocratic noble’s (land owner) protection. The land was a dividend granted by the king “to his most important nobles, his barons, and his bishops, in return for their contribution of soldiers for the king's armies.”[iv] The scarcity of resources is a primary principle of economics and as such over time the lords could no longer provide new land to their serfs. With kings developing National Armies and the lack of land led to the decline of this feudalistic system.[v] This "marked the end of the true feudal age and began paving the way for strong monarchies, nation states, and national wars of the sixteenth century. Much fourteenth century feudalism had become artificial and self-conscious. Already men were finding it a little curious. It was acquiring an antiquarian interest and losing its usefulness. It was ceasing to belong to the real world of practical living." [vi] With the feudal system failing, merchant capitalism took the main stage.

Mercantilism was the prominent economic policy during the 1500’s, which held ‘emphasis on the importance of gold and silver holdings as a sign of a nation’s wealth and power led to policies designed to obtain precious metals through trade by ensuring “favorable” trade balances. It ensured government regulation to increase its power at the expense of rival nations and it favored a large population to supply laborers, purchasers of goods, and soldiers.’[vii] Mercantilism set the precedent for colonialism and overseas conquest; the Americas had an abundance of resources, whereas feudalist Europe had depleted their own. Thus the colonies became a vital resource for its bullion, raw materials, finished products and other commodities. Slavery became essential in this equation by keeping the labor cheap and increasing the profit margins.[viii] Neither the merchants nor the empires they represented had any humanistic ideals: they were simply seeking wealth, regardless the cost. There was a created demand for slavery and a market rose in the form of the transatlantic slave trade.

“The long-term contact of the Mediterranean with Africans from at least the time of Egyptian civilization onwards makes one doubt the importance of this phenomenon. Also the extensive history of Europeans enslaving each other would suggest that there was nothing special about the Africans and slavery in the European mind at the end of the fifteenth century.”[ix] Mercantilism aggressively forced efficiency for the colonialist and for those trying to capitalize from the Americas: thus the demand for cheap and efficient slave or indentured labor. The Native Americans were a poor labor source with their propensity for revolt, escape, and suicide. Other labor markets were rapidly growing across Europe, so it became increasingly difficult to recruit European peasants for labor across seas. The Portuguese had success with the Black labor force in São Thomé in the Gulf of Guinea and through a series of trial and error again met success with this labor in the tropical Americas (staffed with European managers.)[x] The Africans also waged better against disease and the climate compared to their laboring counterparts.[xi] African slavery seemed to fit the shoe. “America became the great market for some 9 to 10 million Africans in the course of the next five centuries,” [xii]

We are often led to believe the romantic notion that Europe was engulfed with an adventurous spirit and these great men set sail to discover new routes to the Indies. Once this new land was discovered they civilized the areas and brought with them agriculture to tame the land. This is a stretch from the truth; they came in pursuit of capitalistic resources from prior knowledge of existing routes. Once they landed, they destroyed the inhabitants and ruthlessly pursuit of African slavery as labor for profit. Europe was at the dawn of peasant uprisings and with a mobilization of a middle class at hand; they needed economic expansion. Thus were the birth of capitalism and the modernization of slavery. Capitalism is the culprit and at its roots we find greed which led to the African slavery. With this learnt, allow us the wisdom to learn from our past, regain our dignity and to have the sight of our greed incited ideology of today: our Neo-Conservative government with its forced expansionary Neo-Liberal markets.

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[i] Marx, Carl. Communist Manifesto. International Publishers Co., Inc 1948 (American Reprinting)

[ii] This information is primarily based off Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica

[iii] Information is based on the article from Revolution Special Youth Edition

[iv] Annenberg/CPB Learner.Org

[v] This information is almost paraphrased from

[vi] J. J. Bagley

[vii] This segment is paraphrased from Encyclopedia Britannica and

[viii] This information was found at and was combined with my prior learnings.

[ix] Herbert Klein, African Slavery, chapter 2

[x] Curtin, Philip D. Epidemiology and The Slave Trade. The Slavery Reader. Slavery in the

Americas: An introductory overview. London: Routeledge, 2003.

[xi] Curtin, Philip D. Epidemiology and The Slave Trade. The Slavery Reader. Slavery in the

Americas: An introductory overview. London: Routeledge, 2003.

[xii] Walvin, James and Heuman, Gad. The Slavery Reader. Slavery in the

Americas: An introductory overview. London: Routeledge, 2003.


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Panna Patel said...
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Panna Patel said...
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Panna Patel said...

Like your essay on slavery. It's an eye opening to learn about our history and how British had capitalized our people and our counties. you should continue writing more on this blog. Love to read more....

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