Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Selective Consciousness of the Evils of Slavery

Brad Delong’s Blog: Grasping Reality With Both Hands HERE, 14 January:

Modern Liberalism and Libertarianism: An Economist's View” contains a most interesting piece by Brad, followed by an intelligent comments column from his readers.

Brad states in his text:

on issues of the persistence of "unfree" labor--Adam Smith expected the imminent collapse of slavery, but ending slavery took a war, and the market economy in America did not appear to be doing very much at all to undermine Jim Crow...

Roger Koppl, an alert reader (a worthy person, obviously, and more than welcome to comment on Lost Legacy) posted a comment:

"Adam Smith expected the imminent collapse of slavery."

Smith lamented, "This institution therefore of slavery, which has taken place in the beginning of every society, has hardly any possibility of being abolished." Though unproductive in Smith's eyes, slavery persists because of the "love of domination and tyrannizing."
(Lectures; 1762-3, 114-117, pp. 186-187 of my Glasgow edition.

Excellent use of evidence to contradict a careless (Brad DeLong is too good an economist, who normally knows exactly what Adam Smith, and many others, wrote, for him to be absolutely ‘wrong’ in an aside by one of the busiest Bloggers on the Internet – Brad runs several Blogs simultaneously, as well as a heavy teaching and research programme.

But Roger Koppl is right and Brad, alas, is, er, not.

Public comment in Britain and North America, aided by endless television repetitions that ‘slavery’ means the ‘slave trade’ from Africa to the USA, is almost completely blind to the fact that slavery from Africa to the Arab Middle East, classical Europe, and all countries to the East, persisted for thousands of years (note the number of African slaves in ancient Egypt) long before America was ‘discovered’.

The appalling practice of slavery was widespread in Eastern Europe and Russia at the time Smith was writing Wealth Of Nations, and Smith was pessimistic that it would ever be abolished.

The camel-led slave-trading 'trains' that left sub-tropical Africa to cross the Sahara, hardly penetrate public consciousness in the way that the African slave ships, made visual by film and television, which only show of the lesser, and shorter in calendar time (though no less evil), slave trade to America.

Not only were Arab traders active in the overland slave trade, they were often the local slave agents active in supplying slaves to slave trading ships from Europe for the American and Caribbean markets.

When the American market was closed eventually by the self-imposed political action of the governments of the USA, Britain, and other European countries, the Arab slave traders continued their despicable trade north across the Sahara, and by sea along the East African coast.



Blogger Ash said...

Hi Gavin

I've been reading your blog for some time, and it's fantastic! If only more economists weren't so misinformed about Adam Smith's true ideological stance. But I'm still puzzled as to where Smith draws the line with regard to government intervention. In Book V, Chapter I, he talks about justice, defence and public works but it seems that he has a wider application for the state in market matters. I'd be very interested to hear your viewpoint on this. Also, if there's a blog post I might have overlooked that deals with it, please let me know. Thanks in advance.

Best regards

Ash (ashennib AT gmail DOT com)

P.S. Your inbox is full!

12:11 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Thank you Ash for your comments on Lost Legacy.

Yes, it is widely believed, even by some top academic economists, especially on Blogland, that Adam Smith favoured small government, often represented by the phrase, the 'night watchman state', which in fact was coined in the late 19th century by a firebrand socialist.

I have posted this list from my latest book, Adam Smith: a moral philosopher and his political economy' (2008, pp 247-48, Palgrave Macmillan)' but I do not have time to check when (my Index entries begun recently but have not been started for past year's posts), so here it is again:

"● The Navigation Acts, blessed by Smith under the assertion that ‘defence, however, is of much more importance than opulence’; (WN464)
● Sterling marks on plate and stamps upon linen and woollen cloth (WN138-9)
● Enforcement of contracts by a system of justice; (WN720)
● Wages to be paid in money, not goods;
● Regulations of paper money in banking; (WN437)
● Obligations to build party wars to prevent the spread of fire; (WN324)
● Rights of farmers to send farm produce to the best market (except ‘only in the most urgent necessity’);(WN 539)
● Premiums and other encouragements to advance the linen and woollen industries’; (TMS185)
● ‘Police’, or preservation of the ‘cleanliness of roads, streets, and to prevent the bad effects of corruption and putrifying substances’;
● ensuring the ‘cheapness or plenty [of provisions]’; (LJ6; 331)
● patrols by town guards, fire fighters and of other hazardous accidents; (LJ331-2)
● Erecting and maintaining certain public works and public institutions intended to facilitate commerce (roads, bridges, canals and harbours); (WN723)
● Coinage and the Mint; (WN478; 1724)
● Post office; (WN724)
● Regulation of institutions, such as company structures (joint stock companies; co-partneries, regulated companies); (WN731-58)
● Temporary monopolies, including copyright, patents, of fixed duration; (WN754)
● Education of youth (‘village schools’, curriculum design); (WN758-89)
● Education of people of all ages (tythes or land tax) (WN788);
● Encouragement of ‘the frequency and gaiety of publick diversions’; (WN796)
● The prevention of ‘leprosy or any other loathsome and offensive disease’ from spreading among the population; (WN787-88)
● Encouragement of martial exercises; (WN786)
● Registration of mortgages for land, houses, and boats over two tons; (WN861, 863)
● Government restrictions on interest for borrowing (usury laws) to overcome investor ‘stupidity’; (WN356-7)
● Laws against banks issuing low-denomination promissory notes; (WN324)
● Natural liberty may be breached if individuals ‘endanger the security of the whole society’; (WN324)
● Limiting ‘free exportation of corn’ only ‘in cases of the most urgent necessity’ (‘dearth’ turning into ‘famine’); (WN539) ● Moderate export taxes on wool exports for government revenue; (WN 879)

From Viner, J. 1928. ‘Adam Smith and Laissez-faire’, In ‘Adam Smith, 1776-1928: Lectures to Commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Publication of Wealth Of Nations, p 53, August M. Kelly, Fairfield, NJ.

[The references for Wealth Of Nations were provided by myself]

[Viner concluded, unsurprisingly, that ‘Adam Smith was not a doctrinaire advocate of laissez faire’.]

10:20 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...


Thanks for the reoiton the clogged mail box. I checked and found that it had been blocked by my daughter because there was near a milion spams on it.

She has added a relevant note on the heading on the Blog page.

10:44 am  
Blogger Ash said...

You're welcome! I sent an email to your gmail account this time and it worked :)

11:53 pm  

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