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February 12, 2011

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David Bernstein

I'm stumped why they are calling this conference "Slavery and Capitalism," when, judging from the description, what they really mean is "Slavery and American Economic Development."

Alfred Brophy

Hi David,

I may have added some to that confusion. The conference is called "slavery's capitalism" and the subtitle is "A New History of American Economic Development." The conference is pitched at the relationship of slavery to US economic development and in particular the role of the market (capitalism) in that development.

While I suppose a lot of folks think of economic development and capitalism as essentially the same, I think part of the reason for the reference to capitalism in the title is the long-standing question from some southern historians about the relationship between slavery and capitalism. A common trope of pro-slavery writers was that free workers faired worse in the market than did enslaved people. Thus arose the argument that slavery was in some way a protection from the market.

David Bernstein

"A common trope of pro-slavery writers was that free workers faired worse in the market than did enslaved people. Thus arose the argument that slavery was in some way a protection from the market."

Yep, that's why we saw all those Irish immigrants trying to sneak across the border to the South, where they voluntarily enslaved themselves.

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