- Series: Wesleyan Paperback
- Paperback: 335 pages
- Publisher: Wesleyan; 2nd edition (December 15, 1988)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0819562084
- ISBN-13: 978-0819562081
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #179,139 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and Society of the Slave South (Wesleyan Paperback) 2nd Edition
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5 1/2 x 8 trim. Table. Graph. LC 89-5607
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Top Customer Reviews
The slave economy was profitable enough to encourage slaveholders to invest their profits in land and more slaves, rather than in manufacture, as the North was doing, for fear of a free white laborer class that might rival their social level, but unwilling yo permit the slaves to reach this same level, for the same reasons. In the meantime, the North with a pool of free paid labor with an incentive to join the propertied class and growing as more and more white immigrants came, left the South behind, in a condition comparable to what in the twentieth century the United States would be to the third world countries, providers of staples as the South did to the North, the West Indies and Europe, and customer of their manufactures and e'n depending of the North for a good portion of their food supplies.
I had read about slavery in the abstract or in personal cases, but never considered it in its details as an economic system, and Professor Genovese has helped me understand this facet of the system which underlies so many of the problems that the United States still faces today.
This is undoubtedly correct, but the mystery to me has always been why anybody thought there was a controversy. A drive through the South around 1960 with its tarpaper shacks, coupled with a drive through the Midwest with its comfortable clapboard houses should have given a hint. Even if the difference had been slight or nil, there is a social factor: If the southern agricultural system had been highly profitable, then necessarily all the profits would have been concentrated in a few hands, in contrast with the North and West.
It might not have been obvious at the time, but the example of England, then developing a similar split without slavery, would have hinted at coming problems. The South needed land reform as much as it needed emancipation.
Genovese is concerned, though, with the more immediate prospects of reform (taking the word in its most expansive meaning, to include those who thought that reform meant making slavery bigger and better). According to Genovese, the form that slavery had taken by the 19th century, coupled with the world market for a single staple crop and the marked difference in farming opportunities between the Upper and the Lower South meant that all parties were on a snubbing chain.
The moderate reformers who wished to make slave labor more efficient were stymied by lack of capital and other forces, and the more ambitious reformers who hoped to see American slavery evolve to a form of modified, more or less free labor were even less able to move.
More interesting is his judgment that those who wanted to extend slavery into the western territories, Cuba or Mexico also could not realistically have done so because of the construction of the markets.
This is somewhat speculative but persuasive.
Genovese is not an economic determinist. He pounds on the idea that the planters could not make moves in their own economic interest because these would have weakened them politically and (he makes less of this) in their social status. They were caught in a development trap, partly of their own devising.
It can happen anywhere. Just recently Robert Rubin tried lamely to explain why the huge bank he helped direct failed to avoid the dangerous mortgaging practices that nearly brought it and the rest of the economy down: He claimed to have known the risks but said the bank could not afford not to participate.
The conclusion I would draw from that -- as from Southern history -- is that some cases are beyond the reach of meliorists; they can be fixed only by revolutionary means. The South had its revolution, although the old regime made a comeback that retarded economic changes for another century; but it finally got its effective revolution and has prospered at last.
Wall Street, too, had its revolution in the `30s, was recaptured by the old regime, failed again and awaits its effective remaking.