The rise and fall of African slavery in the Americas

June 27, 2019 History

Essay: For people today particularly interested in things like global value chains and the entanglement of remote consumers and producers, what might the rise and fall of African slavery in the Americas tell us about the longer history of global economic integration?

Perhaps, I can state that some modern world capitalism has traces of inhumane and terrible act that took place during the sixteenth and eighteenth century. Repugnant act has been nurtured by the means of providing and servicing vast economy of African-American slavery. But how did the New and the Old-World society perceived slave labor in pre-industrial era? As Mr. Baptist writes in his book: “The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African-Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth.”

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In addition, Harvard historian Walter Johnson in an interview adds “Mr. Baptist shows how the Bank of the United States was lending money to slave traders. Planters would mortgage their slaves to raise money, and those mortgages were sold to investors.”

So why would U.S capitalists together with the government supported slave owners despite the obscene immorality of this act? And was it because slave labor was a main engine behind the development and progress of U.S economy?

According to an article “Slaves: The Capital That Made Capitalism” by Julia Otto “at that date, U.S. cotton was the world’s most widely traded commodity. Without those exports, the national economy as a whole could not acquire the goods and the credit it required from abroad.”

Hence, it becomes obvious that not only slave ownership brought enormous profits and economic values to its owners but created immense network of global value chains. These networks of suppliers ranged from textile, shoes, and even iron nails for slave chains that were distributed to slave market from different continents as far as Europe and Germany and from the North part of United States. Slavery provided the world market with sugar and so needed cotton. Thus, every consumer in Britain or Europe who enjoyed a sweet taste of a tea or the ones who wore a beautiful dress made of cotton produced by slaves, were great contributors of slave flourishment.  As Julia Otto points out: “once a luxury good, cotton cloth now radically transformed the way human beings across the globe outfitted themselves and their surroundings.”
Consequently, slavery became not only the vile act but a great source of wealth that had to be abolished. Coming back to our era of Amazon, Facebook or Google economy some would think that a slavery is a thing of our distant past but how about the fact that slavery is still exist in our present times but in a different form. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) more than 20 million people around the world are victims of forced labor, the vast majority of whom are women and children. There are 11.7 million forced laborers in Asia alone. So, the question we should ask ourselves are we as modern consumers contribute and nourish contemporary slavery by purchasing goods and services from giant supply chains like Amazon and Alibaba? Unfortunately, my answer is yes, we blindly do it with every dollar and pound sterling spent.


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