Such is the thesis proffered by Sven Beckert in an enticing essay published in the Chronicle of Higher Education: “For the first half of the 19th century, slavery was at the core of the American economy. The South was an economically dynamic part of the nation (for its white citizens); its products not only established the United States’ position in the global economy but also created markets for agricultural and industrial goods grown and manufactured in New England and the mid-Atlantic states.”
Like so many of his colleagues, Beckert lacks an appreciation of the parable of the broken window. New historians of capitalism can identify the ostensible economic prowess of slavery, but they have not seen the costs imposed by slave economies. Contra the claims of these writers, as a pollutant slavery retarded America’s economic development in three ways. Let us explore the channels through which slavery polluted the economy.