University of Cambridge > > Global Economic History Seminar > Capital and labour: Theoretical foundations of the economics of slavery

Capital and labour: Theoretical foundations of the economics of slavery

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Despite the prevalence of slavery in world history, our understanding of its rise, persistence, and fall remains limited. Most previous studies focus on slavery primarily as a labour contract indistinguishable from other coercive arrangements, such as serfdom. In this paper, we argue that this view fails to consider other forms of economic exploitation experienced by the enslaved. In the cases where property rights to land were either weak or did not yield significant values, slaveholders had an incentive to use slaves as means to raise capital beyond their role as farmworkers. This paper uses the Cape Colony, Brazil, and the southern United States as case studies to demonstrate that despite significant geographic, demographic, and economic differences, these slave economies still share significant elements for economic historians to continue the pursuit of a comprehensive theory of slavery. In this theory, the role of slaves as capital investments is necessary.

This talk is part of the Global Economic History Seminar series.

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