Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Quote of the Day: Walter Williams on Slavery

Reparations advocates make the foolish unchallenged pronouncement that the United States became rich on the backs of free black labor. That's utter nonsense. Slavery has never had a very good record of producing wealth. Think about it. Slavery was all over the South. Buying into the reparations nonsense, you'd have to conclude that the antebellum South was rich and the slave-starved North was poor.

The truth of the matter is just the opposite. In fact, the poorest states and regions of our country were places where slavery flourished: Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia while the richest states and regions were those where slavery was absent: Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts.


~Walter Williams

For Professor Williams' "Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon Granted to All Persons of European Descent," click here.

22 Comments:

At 7/08/2009 11:15 AM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/08/2009 1:41 PM, Anonymous gettingrational said...

@ Prof. Perry, Please delete the second comment here and this person's other comments on this blog. Apparently a certain poster has to much time to do mischief and not enough intelligence for thoughtful posts.

 
At 7/08/2009 2:03 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/08/2009 2:32 PM, Blogger QT said...

Robert,

Glad to see that a mosquito doesn't bother you.

Gettingrational,

I agree that the post was intended to be offensive and contributes nothing to the discussion. Thank you for the pleasure of your good manners and civility.

 
At 7/08/2009 2:33 PM, Blogger Ralph said...

I thought Williams take on the "amnesty and pardon" issue was hilarious and exactly what we need, i.e. to laugh at this completely ridiculous concept. Forget amnesty, I can not stomach the whole "apology" scenario. The action of the Senate by unanimous vote of apologizing is asinine and cowardly. No one is alive from era, most of the people are descended from people who were not even here or if they were they just got here so it is ridiculous to say "I am sorry". It would never have taken place if we had citizen politicians interested in the present and the future, instead of professional and lifetime politicians interested only in pandering and appealing for votes.

We need to move on.

Ralph Short

 
At 7/08/2009 4:33 PM, Anonymous James said...

It strains belief that Professor Williams, who teaches economics, actually believes his argument that the U.S. didn't become rich through slavery. This argument bears no relationship to the standard economic histories of the period.

He must surely know that slave-produced crops, most notably cotton, brought the southern states fabulous wealth in the antebellum years.

He must also know that while this economic system did leave the South an undeveloped, agrarian society after slavery ended, it actually made possible the industrialization of the North.

In other words, those rich, northern states Williams cites--Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts--actually gained their wealth because of slavery. Their colonial economies thrived in large part because of their trade with slave plantations in the South and in the West Indies. After the Revolution, Philadelphia, New York and Boston grew rich from their involvement in southern slavery, providing most of the financing and transportation for slave-produced cotton. Finally, the North industrialized through the cotton textile industry, which depended for its existence on cheap, slave-produced cotton and the capital from slavery and the slave trade.

 
At 7/08/2009 6:26 PM, Blogger 1 said...

"It strains belief that Professor Williams, who teaches economics, actually believes his argument that the U.S. didn't become rich through slavery. This argument bears no relationship to the standard economic histories of the period"...

It strains belief that you have swallowed that the US did get rich via slavery but then again...

Let's blame these guys who got rich on slavery...

Yeah! That's the ticket!

"Last month, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed Senate Resolution 26 "Apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans"...

Personally I found this pandering behavior on the part of Senate both asinine and insulting...

Where is the condemnation of Islam for their part in the slave trade?

 
At 7/08/2009 11:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

True story. I was forced into slavery just yesterday.

I had to show up for jury duty.

Anon. Bob Dobb.

 
At 7/09/2009 4:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ever been to Africa? I'd bet many people there would sign up to be slaves in America. They'd be much better off.

 
At 7/09/2009 8:05 AM, Anonymous James said...

It strains belief that you have swallowed that the US did get rich via slavery but then again...

Would you care to elaborate? Every economic history of the period that I've read says the same things, and provides the statistics to back it up: that the colonial U.S. prospered because of slavery, and that the North not only grew rich off slavery before the Civil War, but also industrialized because of that connection.

Where is the condemnation of Islam for their part in the slave trade?

No one's condemning the U.S. for its role. It's merely apologizing for what it did, as many other nations have done.

Ever been to Africa? I'd bet many people there would sign up to be slaves in America. They'd be much better off.

I've been to Africa. And people there are in much worse shape than we are, but they're vastly better off than chattel slaves were.

 
At 7/09/2009 9:45 AM, Blogger QT said...

James,

Could you please supply some references? You have stated that all of the economic histories support the view you have presented but your argument is undercut by the lack of any references whatever.

I would have to agree that the invention of the cotton gin made cotton a very lucrative crop. Large slave plantations switched from rice and tobacco production to cotton and made fortunes. Without a technological innovation, this would not have been possible.

Although most southerners did not own slaves, it is clear that the percentage that did benefitted from slave ownership. It is also clear that the U.S. civil war resulted in large part from the unwillingness of the south to abandon slavery.

The destruction of human life and wealth resulting from the Civil War arguably dwarfs the economic benefits accrued from slavery but no matter.

You have also suggested that northern industrialization was built upon slavery. This part of your argument seems less tenable. From what I understand, much of the cotton from the south was exported to Britain supporting a thriving textile industry. Additionally, protective tariffs enacted to assist the growing manufacturing sector in the north led to considerable friction with the south. We have obviously been reading different history books although, I will certainly concede that your view may be right and mine, wrong.

I would very much appreciate if you could provide some references. The subject is of considerable interest.

On the matter of apologies, the idea may be long overdue however, it emphasizes that we have not moved beyond the politics of race nor to fostering a sense of victimhood in the black culture. Should we not be looking at what human beings irrespective of colour can achieve? The past in this instance gives us limits which no longer define who we are.

 
At 7/09/2009 11:32 AM, Anonymous James said...

Could you please supply some references?

Absolutely. Let's start with Douglass North, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics, and wrote the leading text on this subject, The Economic Growth of the United States, 1790-1860.

Now, does anyone have a reference for the other side of this argument?

The destruction of human life and wealth resulting from the Civil War arguably dwarfs the economic benefits accrued from slavery but no matter.

Actually, I believe the economic costs of the Civil War were trivial compared with the economic growth brought about by slavery and slave-related businesses between the 17th and 19th centuries.

From what I understand, much of the cotton from the south was exported to Britain supporting a thriving textile industry.

True, and even more was shipped to the rest of Europe. Much of this shipping was actually done by on northern ships; vast quantities of cotton were shipped north and then transshipped through New York, Philadelphia, and other ports. This is what first made New York, for instance, a leading financial and maritime center.

However, Additionally, protective tariffs enacted to assist the growing manufacturing sector in the north led to considerable friction with the south.

There were such frictions, yes.

However, staggering quantities of cotton were imported every year into the north, to fuel its cotton textile industry. Where else was that cotton coming from, after all? That industry is how the U.S. first industrialized, and it was our leading industry prior to the Civil War.

We have obviously been reading different history books although, I will certainly concede that your view may be right and mine, wrong.

I appreciate that, and I could be wrong, too. What have your history books been saying, about what drove the U.S. economy in those years? I'm not sure the facts you cite suggest that the North wasn't using slave-produced cotton (and profits) to build its industries.

we have not moved beyond the politics of race .... Should we not be looking at what human beings irrespective of colour can achieve? The past in this instance gives us limits which no longer define who we are.

I agree that we haven't moved past race yet, and that we shouldn't allow the past to define how we look at each other, or where we want to take our society.

However, I do believe we need to examine the past, and shed our previous myths about the past and its effects today. I'm sure we can all agree that if there are significant effects of the past still in evidence today, merely pretending they aren't there isn't the best way to get rid of those effects and move forward together.

 
At 7/09/2009 11:57 AM, Blogger QT said...

James,

Thank you for your thougthful reply. You make a very good case.

I look forward to reading this book.

 
At 7/09/2009 12:27 PM, Blogger QT said...

James,

Just one point. The book documents the period from 1790 to 1860 which does not include the 17th century or most of the 18th century nor the economic consequences of the U.S. civil war.

I have no argument with the contention that the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 made cotton a huge engine for economic growth in the south. Also would have no argument that trade in slave produced cotton benefitted northern ports and that cotton drove an expansion of the slave trade which would again have benefitted slave traders, north & south.

Interesting, cotton production returned to pre-war levels only a few years after the civil war. I do not understand the benefit of slave production for north-eastern cotton mills who would be paying the same amount whether the cotton was slave produced or not.

I believe you may be underestimating the economic effects of the U.S. civil war. After the war, the southern economy declined significantly as a result of the abandonment of slavery as well as punitive policies.

Looking at personal income by state offers a very different picture. Personal income comparison in states. This link goes back to data from 1969. At that time, the poorest states were Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, West Virginia, South Carolina, Louisiana, New Mexico, Tenessee, Kentucky.

 
At 7/09/2009 3:45 PM, Anonymous James said...

The book documents the period from 1790 to 1860 which does not include the 17th century or most of the 18th century nor the economic consequences of the U.S. civil war.

That's quite true. The book does document, quite thoroughly, the basis of the U.S. economy in the late 18th century, and until the Civil War.

For the fact that our colonial prosperity was due to slavery and to trade with slave plantations in other regions, I would refer you to President John Quincy Adams, who called the economic success of that trade "an essential ingredient" in our ability to rebel against Great Britain.

As for the economic consequences of the Civil War, I haven't discussed those, except to note that the cost of the war itself was minor compared to the runaway economic development of the U.S. from colonial times through its early industrialization. We could easily establish that with back-of-the-envelope calculations, I'm sure.

Also would have no argument that trade in slave produced cotton benefitted northern ports

I appreciate your willingness to go so far. So please take this clarification in the spirit in which it is intended: that trade benefited northern ports more than anything else did. Slave-produced cotton was, by far, the largest export from the north in the decades before the Civil War.

Interesting, cotton production returned to pre-war levels only a few years after the civil war.

A good illustration of how the costs of fighting a war, and its economic consequences, were not too grave: the southern economy was battered, but cotton production, its mainstay, bounced back fairly quickly.

I do not understand the benefit of slave production for north-eastern cotton mills who would be paying the same amount whether the cotton was slave produced or not.

Those mills would be paying far more for cotton that wasn't picked by slaves. That's a labor-intensive process, and free laborers cost more than slaves. (Although it's worth noting that many freed blacks, and their descendants, labored for very little money for generations, which helps explain how production bounced back up, and remained unreasonably cheap; see, e.g., Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.)

I believe you may be underestimating the economic effects of the U.S. civil war. After the war, the southern economy declined significantly....

Declined significantly, yes. But as you noted, its largest export bounced back within just a few years. We have to weigh this relatively brief interruption against generations of impressive economic development in both north and south, development which was largely untouched by war and was on the march again within just a few years.

Looking at personal income by state offers a very different picture.

A very different picture, compared to what? I agree, for instance, that slavery benefited the south enormously, but left it relatively undeveloped and unprepared for the late 19th and early 20th centuries; most of the long-term economic benefits were in the north.

 
At 7/10/2009 12:19 AM, Blogger QT said...

WRT personal income by state in 1969, the eleven rebel states ranked 1,2,3,5,6,8,11,15,19,23,27 in order of states with the lowest personal income. That 8 of the 11 rank in the first 15 out of 50 states is notable. Some historians suggest that the economic consequences of the U.S. civil war and the punitive reconstruction policies had long term economic effects.

A quotation from President Andrew Johnson sums up the attitude toward the south following the war and the assassination of President Lincoln:

"I intend to confiscate the lands of these rich men whom I have excluded from pardon by my proclamation, and divide the proceeds thereof among the families of the wool hat boys, the Confederate soldiers, whom these men forced into battle to protect their property in slaves."

While cotton production levels returned to pre-war levels a few years after the war, prices remained low throughout much of the 19th century. The southern economy did not bounce back. Migration is a fairly reliable indicator of ongoing economic decline.

In the last two decades of the 19th century, about 141,000 blacks left the South, and more after 1900, totaling a loss of 537,000. After that, the movement increased in what became known as the Great Migration from 1910–1940, and the Second Great Migration through 1970. Even more whites left the South, some going to California for opportunities; others heading to northern industrial cities after 1900. Between 1880 and 1910, the loss of whites totaled 1,243,000.[26] Five million more left between 1940 and 1970.

Would agree that the north was better prepared given that 92% of the industries in the U.S. at the time of the civil war were located in the north and its population was 4 x that of the southern states.

Thank you for an interesting discussion. I look forward to reading Douglass North's book.

 
At 7/10/2009 8:30 AM, Anonymous James said...

Some historians suggest that the economic consequences of the U.S. civil war and the punitive reconstruction policies had long term economic effects.

Those wouldn't be the economic consequences of fighting the war, however. There are lots of ways to show this.

It would be a result of the nature of the peace, and those punitive reconstruction policies. I'm no expert on this, but I could certainly believe that's true.

In any event, that's about politics after the Civil War, and is unrelated to the benefits of slavery.

I do agree that slavery channeled the South into particular economic activities, which then disadvantaged the region after slavery was forcibly ended. This is part of the cost/benefit analysis of slavery, and I think it shows that while the South prospered enormously from slavery in the short term, the long-term benefits were largely to the North (and, by extension, the entire country, including the South. The South didn't share equally in those benefits, but it's doing much better than if it weren't part of a country which industrialized early and maintained its lead).

Your points about the South are, in general, ones that I think are quite important.

 
At 7/10/2009 1:59 PM, Blogger QT said...

James,

Our positions seem to have moved much closer to agreement on many levels. Thank you for an interesting discussion.

Very much appreciate the book recommendation. There are very few books that are ground breaking.

 
At 7/11/2009 5:38 PM, Blogger 1 said...

James said: "Every economic history of the period that I've read says the same things, and provides the statistics to back it up: that the colonial U.S. prospered because of slavery, and that the North not only grew rich off slavery before the Civil War, but also industrialized because of that connection"...

Gee! Sounds like you've been reading Noble quality type writing...

Hmmm, Al Gore also won a Noble prize...

 
At 7/12/2009 1:51 PM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/12/2009 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The American Indians got their reparations. The Japanese who were locked up during world war two got their compensations. The Jews are still collecting for their persecution under the Nazis well over seventy years ago!

Well the persecution of African Americans was well still established in the fifties and sixties. Are those southern Democrats liable??? Not according to Professor Perry and Professor Williams! That dastardly treatment was nothing in their view. Perhaps the slaves deserved it eh? Perhaps African Americans did not deserve the right to vote which Democrats opposed for over 100 years! Is the Democrtic Party liable for the oppression and suppression of the right of African Americans to vote?? Did AFrican Americans suffer financially from being denied the right to vote?? Not according to professor Perry and Williams; get over it!

Why do we have educated persons like Professor Perry and an african american professor who clearly are showing some type of anger and disdain against justice for over 3000 lynchings, mass rapes and sodomization of countless African American men and women! The mass rapes were so numerous that the complexion of large parts of the slave population was changed! Ahhh that is nothing get over it eh??

Professor Perry your dislike of African Americans took a while to emerge; but it finally showed.

 
At 7/13/2009 8:04 AM, Anonymous James said...

The South's climate gave it a comparative advantage in agricultural production. It was that advantage in agriculture, highly dependent upon low-skilled labor, which was the impetus for slavery and/or indentured servitude.

That's quite correct. This is why, for instance, northern slavery was widespread but did not primarily take the form of large-scale plantation slavery, and why it was gradually displaced by such economic activities as supplying slave plantations elsewhere, financing and shipping slave-produced commodities from other regions, and developing an industrial base around those commodities.

However, we were speaking about what happened to the southern economy after slavery ended. At that time, because the south had specialized so heavily in commodity production (for rational reasons), it had not built up the commercial or industrial base found in the north. This represented a comparative disadvantage which persisted for a very long time.

 

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