Understanding the Long-Run Effects of Africa’s Slave Trades

By Nathan Nunn, Frederic E. Abbe Professor of Economics, Harvard University. Originally published at VoxEU

This column first appeared as a chapter in the Vox eBook, The Long Economic and Political Shadow of History, Volume 2, available to download here.

Between 1400 and 1900, the African continent experienced four sizeable slave trades. The largest and best-known was the trans-Atlantic slave trade where, beginning in   the 15th century, slaves were shipped from West Africa, West  Central Africa, and Eastern Africa to the European colonies in the New World. The three other slave trades – the trans-Saharan, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean slave trades – were smaller in scale and predated the trans-Atlantic slave trade. During the trans-Saharan slave trade, slaves were taken from south of the Saharan desert and shipped to Northern Africa. In the Red Sea slave trade, slaves were taken from inland of the Red Sea and shipped to the Middle East and India. In the Indian Ocean slave trade, slaves were taken from Eastern Africa and shipped either to the Middle East, India, or the plantation islands in the Indian Ocean. In total, close to 20 million slaves were taken from the continent (Nunn 2008). According to the best estimates, by 1800 Africa’s population was half of what it would have been, had the slave trades not occurred (Manning 1990).

Slaves were captured through kidnappings, raids, and warfare. A summary of the method of enslavement among a sample of 144 former slaves is provided in Table 1. Historical accounts suggest that the pervasive insecurity, violence and warfare had detrimental impacts on the institutional, social, and economic development of societies. There are numerous examples of the slave trades causing the deterioration of domestic legal institutions, the weakening of states, and political and social fragmentation (e.g. Inikori 2000, 2003, Heywood 2009).

Table 1. The methods of enslavement of Koelle’s Informants

Notes: The data are from Sigismund Koelle’s Linguistic Inventory. The sample consists of 144 informants, interviewed by Koelle, for which their means of enslavement is known.

The most illustrative example of this is the experience of the Kongo Kingdom, which was contacted in 1493 by Diogo Cao. Initially, a diverse array of products was traded between the Kongo Kingdom and the Portuguese, including copper, textiles, ivory, and slaves. At first, the only slaves to be traded were prisoners of war and criminals. However, the Portuguese demand for slaves, the pervasiveness of slave traders and merchants, and competition for the throne within the Kingdom all resulted in a dramatic and uncontrollable increase in slave capture and raiding throughout the Kingdom. By 1514, King Afonso (the Kongo King) had already written to the King of Portugal, complaining that the Portuguese merchants were colluding with noblemen to illegally enslave Kongolese citizens. In 1526, in an effort to end the trade, King Afonso requested the removal of all Portuguese merchants. In the end, his efforts were unsuccessful. Large scale slave-raiding continued unchecked into the 16th century, when it culminated in the Jaga invasion of 1568-1570. Large-scale civil war ensued from 1665-1709, resulting in the collapse of the once-powerful Kingdom (Heywood 2009).

An empirical literature has emerged that aims to supplement these historical accounts with quantitative estimates of the long-run impact of Africa’s slave trades. The first paper that attempted to provide such estimates was Nunn (2008). In the study, I undertook an empirical test, with the following logic. If the slave trades are partly responsible for Africa’s current underdevelopment, then, looking across different parts of Africa, one should observe that the areas that are the poorest today should also be the areas from which the largest number of slaves were taken in the past.

To undertake this study, I had to first construct estimates of the number of slaves taken from each country in Africa during the slave trades (i.e. between 1400 and 1900).

These estimates were  constructed  by  combining  data   on   the   number   of   slaves shipped from each African port or region  with  data  from  historical documents that reported the ethnicity of over 106,000 slaves taken from  Africa. Figure 1 provides an image showing a typical page from these historical documents. The documents shown are slave manumission records from Zanzibar. Each row reports information for one slave, including his/her name, ethnicity, age, and so on.

After constructing the estimates and connecting these with measures of modern day economic development, I found that, indeed, the countries from which the most slaves had been taken (taking into account differences in country size) were today the poorest in Africa. This can be seen in Figure 2, which is taken from Nunn (2008). It shows the relationship between the number of slaves taken between 1400 and 1900 and average real per capita GDP measured in 2000. As the figure clearly shows, the relationship is extremely strong. Furthermore, the relationship remains robust when many other key determinants of economic development are taken into account.

Figure 1 Excerpt from document taken from Zanzibar archives

Figure 2 The relationship between slave exports (normalised by a country’s land area) and real per capita GDP in 2000. Both variables are measured on a log scale

An alternative interpretation of the relationship shown in Figure 2 is that the parts of Africa from which the largest number of slaves were taken were initially the most underdeveloped. Today, because those characteristics persist, these parts of Africa continue to be underdeveloped and poor.

I also tested this alternative hypothesis by checking whether it was, in fact, the initially least developed parts of Africa that engaged most heavily in the slave trades. I find that the data suggest that, if anything, it was the parts of Africa that were initially the most developed, not least developed, that supplied the largest number of slaves.   In the analysis, I also used a statistical technique called instrumental variables estimation to identify the causal effect of the slave trade on economic development. The findings from the instrumental variables estimates suggested that increased extraction during the slave trades did, indeed, cause worse economic performance. Overall, the conclusion from the analyses is that the relationship shown in Figure 2 is most likely causal and not spurious.

My estimates in Nunn (2008) allowed, for the first time, the impacts the slave trades had on economic development to be understood quantitatively. In particular, using the estimates, one is able to calculate how much more developed Africa would be, if the slave trades had not taken place. These calculations were undertaken in Nunn (2010). As an initial step in the calculation, first note that the mean level of average per capita income of the countries in Africa is $1,834 (measured in 2000). This is significantly lower than the income for the rest of the world (which is $8,809), and it is much lower even than the income of other developing countries (which is $4,868), where a developing country is defined as one with less than $14,000 in per capita income. According to the estimates from Nunn (2008), if the slave trades had not occurred, then 72% of the average income gap between Africa and the rest of the world would not exist today, and 99% of the income gap between Africa and other developing countries would not exist. In other words, had the slave trades not occurred, Africa would not be the most underdeveloped region of the world and it would have a similar level of development to Latin America or Asia.

My findings in Nunn (2008) provided suggestive evidence that much of Africa’s poor performance can be explained by its history, which is characterised by over 400 years of slave raiding. Although my analysis stopped short of providing a definitive understanding of exactly how and why the slave trades were so detrimental to economic development, it did provide suggestive evidence that was consistent with historical accounts of the slave trades resulting in a weakening and underdevelopment of political structures, as well as in impeding the formation of broader ethnic groups, leading to more ethnic diversity. The study showed that the countries from which the largest numbers of slaves were taken were also the areas that had the most underdeveloped political structures at the end of the 19th century, as well as being the countries that are the most ethnically fragmented today.

A number of studies followed on from the research in Nunn (2008), by attempting to better understand the channels through which the slave trades affect economic development today. Green (2013) revisited the impact of the slave trade on ethnic fractionalisation. He extended the findings in Nunn (2008) by examining the entire world, and constructing estimates of the export of slaves in all countries in the world. Using these data, he also found a strong relationship between slave exports and greater ethnic fractionalisation.

According to his estimates, all of the difference in ethnic fractionalisation between Africa and the rest of the world can be explained by its experience with the slave trades.

In a series of studies, Whatley and Gillezeau (2011) and Whatley (2014) combine slave shipping records with ethnographic data and estimate the relationship between slave shipments and institutional quality and ethnic diversity in the locations close to the ports of shipment. Their analysis, consistent with Nunn (2008) and Green (2013), indicates that the slave trades did result in greater ethnic fractionalisation. In addition, their analysis also shows that the slave trades resulted in a deterioration of local ethnic institutions, measured in the late pre-colonial period.

Another subsequent study, undertaken by Nunn and Wantchekon (2011) asks whether the slave trades resulted in a deterioration of trust. The paper’s line of enquiry was motivated by two facts. The first is that trust has been long-hypothesised to be an important foundation for economic prosperity (e.g. Algan and Cahuc 2010). The second was the fact that, during the slave trades, individuals frequently turned on one another, kidnapping, tricking, and selling each other into slavery. The existing historical evidence indicates that these forms of betrayal were common. For example, among the sample of slaves reported in Table 1, 20% became slaves because they were tricked by a family member or friend.

In our study, Wantchekon and I extended the data construction efforts in Nunn (2008) and constructed estimates of the number of slaves taken from each ethnic group in Africa (rather than country). The ethnicity level estimates are displayed visually in Figure 3. The analysis combined the ethnicity-level slave export estimates with fine-grained household survey data, which reports individuals’ trust of those around them, whether neighbours, relatives, local governments, co-ethnics, or those from other ethnicities. The study documented a strong negative relationship between the intensity of the slave trade among one’s ethnic ancestors and an individual’s trust in others today.

The study then attempted to distinguish between the two most likely channels through which the slave trades could have adversely affected trust. One is that the slave trades made individuals and their descendants inherently less trusting. That is, it created a culture of distrust. In the insecure environment of the slave trade, where it was common to experience the betrayal of others, even friends and family, greater distrust may have developed, which could persist over generations even after the end of the slave trade.

Another possibility is that the slave trades may have resulted in a long-term deterioration of legal and political institutions, which are then less able to enforce good behaviour among citizens, and as a result people trust each other less today.

The study undertook a number of different statistical tests to identify the presence and strength of the two channels. They found that each of the tests generated the same answer: both channels are present. The slave trades negatively affected domestic institutions and governance, which results in less trust today. In addition, the slave trade also directly reduced the extent to which individuals were inherently trusting of others. We also found that, quantitatively, the second channel is twice as large as the first channel.

The ethnicity-level slave export estimates I constructed with Wantchekon spurred a second line of research that looked into other impacts of the slave trade, using the new finer-grained data. For example, Zhang and Kibriya matched the ethnicity-level slave export data from Nunn and Wantchekon (2008) with fine-grained data on the location and intensity of conflicts within Africa from 1997-2014. They find a strong positive relationship between the intensity of the slave trades and the prevalence of civil conflict today. Given the strong link between income and conflict, this likely represents an important channel behind the reduced-form relationship between the slave trades and income documented in Nunn (2008).

A number of subsequent studies have also explored other cultural consequences of   the slave trades. For example, research by Edlund and Ku (2011), Dalton and Leung (2014), and Bertocchi and Dimico (2015) found that the trans-Atlantic slave trade resulted in a long-term increase in the prevalence of polygyny (i.e. the practice of men having multiple wives). This is due to the fact that it was primarily males who were captured and shipped to the Americas, resulting in a shortage of men and skewed sex ratios within many parts of Africa. Interestingly, Dalton and Leung (2014) found that there is no evidence of such an impact for the Indian Ocean slave trade, where there was not a strong preference for male slaves. This has led the authors to conclude that Africa’s history of the slave trades is the primary explanation for why today polygyny is much more prevalent in West Africa than in East Africa.

Figure 3 Maps showing the number of slaves taken from each ethnic group in Africa during the trans-Atlantic and Indian Ocean slave trades

a) Indian slave exports


b) Atlantic slave exports

The study by Bertocchi and Dimico (2015) is particularly interesting, because it takes the analysis one step further and shows that the greater prevalence of polygyny, which arose due to the slave trade, has led to an increase in HIV rates. They document that women who are in a polygynous relationship are more likely to have sexual partners other than their husband. This is perhaps not surprising, since in polygamous societies wealthy older men are typically the ones who have multiple wives, leaving a large number of young able-bodied men, without wives, able and willing to engage in extramarital relationships. Thus, according to the authors’ findings, the trans-Atlantic slave trade is an important factor in explaining the high rates of HIV in Africa today.

A study by Teso (2016) also examined the consequences of the skewed sex ratio that resulted during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but focused on the impacts on female labour force participation. The shortage of males in the population, during the trans- Atlantic slave trade, meant that women had to undertake many of the tasks traditionally performed by men, such as those in agriculture, or in the military, and to accept positions of leadership and authority. The Dahomean female ‘Amazon’ army, shown in Figure 2, is the best-known example of this. The female army was established by Dahomey in the 17th century at the height of the slave trade, and their existence continued until the end of the 19th century. Teso’s (2016) research shows that those parts of Africa that experienced the trans-Atlantic slave trade most severely have higher rates of female labour force participation today.

Figure 4 A photo of the female army of Dahomey, who were often referred to as ‘Amazons’

A number of studies have turned the line of research started in Nunn (2008) on its head by asking, not ‘What were the consequences of the slave trades?’, but ‘What were the causes of the slave trades?’. Fenske and Kala (2015) examined what role weather played by combining information on slave shipments with data on annual historical temperatures, measured at a 5-degree grid-cell level. They found that negative weather shocks (taking the form of abnormally cold years) increased the supply of slaves   from the locations that experienced these shocks. They also find that locations that experienced such shocks during the height of the slave trade tend to have lower income levels today.  In a separate study, the same authors examined how the suppression     of the slave trade after 1807 affected slave shipments (Fenske and Kala 2016). Not surprisingly, the suppression led to a decline in slave exports, although this was focused in British-controlled parts of the continent. The authors also showed that the decline in slave exports occurred alongside an increase in violence and coercion within the continent. Thus, the evidence suggests that not only did the slave trade have detrimental effects, but possibly its abolition did too.

A study by Nunn and Puga (2015) has examined the extent to which geography affected the capture and export of slaves during the slave trades. My co-author and I used the data from Nunn (2008) to document how uneven terrain, taking the form of cliffs, ridges, and escarpments, was used by societies to defend against and escape from slave raiders. The uneven terrain could be used to help build defensive fortifications and to provide places to escape, in the face of slave raids. We show that, as a consequence, those places in Africa that are more rugged were better able to escape the slave trade and, thus, are richer today.

Although research understanding the long-term impacts of Africa’s slave trades is still in progress, the evidence accumulated up to this point suggests that this historic event played an important part in the shaping of the continent, in terms of not only economic outcomes, but cultural and social outcomes as well. The evidence suggests that it has affected a wide range of important outcomes, including economic prosperity, ethnic diversity, institutional quality, the prevalence of conflict, the prevalence of HIV, trust levels, female labour force participation rates, and the practice of polygyny. Thus, the slave trades appear to have played an important role in shaping the fabric of African society today.

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    1. JEHR

      Slavery is the most obnoxious and horrific behaviour that human beings afflict upon other human beings.

    2. JohnnyGL

      Well, one positive step would be to STOP continued exploitation and destruction that occurs presently from commodities exports (mining, oil/gas drilling, cash-crop-for-export agriculture).

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you. I agree. My great grandfather was one of the founders of the Mauritian Labour Party in the 1930s. His wife, one sister in law and daughters were also activists. The family was blacklisted by the sugar barons, some of whom we were related to, and had to go for work far away and under different names or overseas.

    3. Colonel Smithers

      Especially when many families have ancestry on both sides, as I do, and some slave owning families later went bust and, in some cases, got into relationships with the descendant of slaves.

  1. tim s

    One aspect of the African slave trade that is typically ignored is that slavery was endemic to many African communities. If no Arab, Indian, or European ever set foot near the continent, slavery would still have been practiced by Africans.

    The stronger African tribes/nations were willing actors in this trade, and profited handsomely by selling their weaker brethren/enemies into slavery to the foreign slave merchants, many of whom never went any further into Africa than the coast. Without the participation of the dominant Africans in the slave trade, I’d speculate that the toll on the overall African population would have been greatly diminished. Had there been a somewhat unified front by the African peoples to resist enslavement, history may well have turned out differently. That would have required a different set of principles than existed at the time, and for that, the responsibility can only lie within the culture of the continent.

    It is noteworthy that some African states did not make slavery illegal until the 21st century.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Dad worked in Saudi Arabia from 1992 – 2013. He was told by colleagues that they had slaves until late in the 20th century and the slaves had stayed to become servants. It’s the same in Mauritania.

    2. voislav

      The slavery practised by the Africans is irrelevant to the economic argument as the economic impact is vastly different. Internal slavery, such as that in Africa (but also in Europe and Asia in the early middle ages), preserves the labour pool and maintains the population balance. Typically, the conqueror would take over the territory, resources and population, with excess production reallocated from the losing elite to the winning elite.
      Externalized slavery, such as mass slavery for export that colonial powers imposed was economically destructive as it destroyed the most productive portions of the labour pool (young men) and introduced population imbalances. This destroyed economic activity as the production of goods would decrease.

      So, from an economic standpoint, slavery as practised by Africans was for most part economically neutral, while European slave exports were economically very destructive

      1. tim s

        Are you including the vast amounts of money that were taken in by the African sellers of slaves?

        From the article I linked:

        The increase of demand for slaves due to the expansion of European colonial powers to the New World made the slave trade much more lucrative to the West African powers, leading to the establishment of a number of actual West African empires thriving on slave trade.

        Some of these African states had economic hardships when slavery was outlawed.

        1. Quiet

          Vast amounts of money combined with a lowered productive capacity? That’s one of the roots of hyperinflation. That’s not a good argument for your implicit point.

        2. clinical wasteman

          No-one disputes that internal forms of slavery existed in parts of Africa before and/or independently of the Atlantic, trans-Saharan and Asian systems, or that elites in many African polities participated in those latter trades as local raiders and international exporters. But these two things were almost entirely separate and should not be conflated as (whether intentionally or not) they seem to be here. As Voislav points out, the internal slave economies didn’t generally lead to sudden and massive demographic upheaval, in obvious contrast to the ‘triangular’ Atlantic trade. Nor did they develop into anything like an agro-industrial system on even the Greco-roman or trans-Saharan, let alone the Caribbean/American scale. To note this is not in any way to suggest that internal African (or medieval European, or early modern South Pacific* slavery was somehow relatively ‘benign’. But without recognizing this difference it’s impossible to understand the other, incalculably important, ‘historical effect’ of the Atlantic slave system in particular, namely its pre-eminent role in ‘primitive accumulation’, or the unprecedentedly rapid build-up of much of the capital underpinning the industrial revolution and ‘capitalism’ as commonly understood. As CLR James and others (Peter Linebaugh/Marcus Rediker, Silvia Federici…) have argued persuasively, the plantations and latifundia of the 17th-19th centuries also constituted the first massive industrial-type concentrations of labour-power, at a time when early mechanized, capitalistic industry in Britain depended to a large extent on household piecework, very often done by women and children. James, Linebaugh/Rediker and, among others, Peter Hallward in ‘Damning the Flood’, his excellent book on Haiti and globalized, NGO-enabled looting, go further, making a convincing (or so it seems to me) case that the ceaseless Caribbean/American slave revolts through those centuries — and the Haitian Revolution above all — amounted to the first mass, organized workers’ movement, and that the sophistication of its methods (no, not always, but remember the Haitians defeated the armies of France, Spain, Britain and the US successively, sometimes more than one at a time) reflect the social and organizational sophistication acquired on plantations that were far too big to be managed directly by their white owners. (James returns to this argument often, but his early work ‘The Black Jacobins’ makes it most thoroughly. I also strongly recommend ‘The Many-Headed Hydra’ by Linebaugh/Rediker, ‘Caliban and the Witch’ by Federici and ‘The African Slave Trade’ by Basil Davidson. Regarding the slave-brokerage activities of West African ‘chiefs’ (actually heads of complex interlocking states), Davidson’s is the best description I’ve read of the ‘enslave or be enslaved’ dynamic that ensued in Benin, Dahomey, Asante, etc. once the triangular trade got underway: a horrifying spiral of artificial ‘necessity’, whose resemblance to present-day Competitiveness is not incidental.
          *On South Pacific slavery, practiced by Europeans and Australasian and Peruvian colonists, with effects proportionately, though briefly, almost as devastating as the triangular trade in certain parts of Tonga and Vanuatu especially, see the writing of Aotearoa scholar Scott (Sikoti) Hamilton, who has just published the case study ‘The Stolen Island’ and who writes superbly about this and much else at his blog ‘Reading the Maps’ [http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.uk/].

          1. Wolf

            Great summary of the historical forces ‘clinical wasteman’.
            And excellent source authors. I’ve tended to agree with their theses. They provide extremely compelling elements to consider as crucial planks in the development of our global political economy.
            The Trans-Atlantic slave economy is probably one of the most underrated themes of history. Especially seeing as it was all recorded. It’s not like we are staring into lost abyss of the three thousand year old past, trying to piece together Bronze Age civilizations.
            Even though it is something of a truism, to state how formative the slave economy was to twenty-first century capitalism, it really does become staggering when you delve into it, to see how much wealth and interests were all aligned to keep this horrific machine grinding on for centuries.

            We know what happened. Best not talk about it too much in mainstream history though. Let bygones be bygones blah blah blah.

          2. tim s

            I understand the points that are being made regarding the differences between the external and internal forms of slavery, although I would disagree that one form of slavery is preferable to the other necessarily to the slave themselves, depending on the circumstances. No doubt that the scale of slavery once the new world opened up had a huge impact on the slave producing regions. It had a huge impact in many different ways for many different people, so it almost becomes a truism to state that the significance was great.

            I take exception with the statement that the two were “almost entirely separate”. Without an established internal slavery market, the external would have been greatly limited. The internal slave culture set the foundation for all that followed.

      2. tim s

        slavery for export that colonial powers imposed

        Where do you see that the colonial powers imposed anything. The slave trade in Africa significantly predated the colonial powers. The colonial powers were customers, and the African merchants were quite happy to sell to them. If they are anything like merchants today (and I see no reason to think that they are not), their focus is $$$ and any increase in business is good, regardless of long term consequences.

        1. nonsense factory

          I think the internal pre-colonial African slave trade was much more like medieval European feudalism, with the serf playing the role of slave and with the local lord having as much power over the serfs as any African noble had over his slaves. This was also similar to slavery under Roman law.

          If we want a more modern, 20th century example of capture and transport of slaves for economic purporse, Nazi Germany serves as a good example.

          The Nazi Germans abducted approximately 12 million people from almost twenty European countries; about two thirds of whom came from Eastern Europe. Many workers died as a result of their living conditions – mistreatment, malnutrition, and torture were the main causes of death. – wiki

          Conditions on American slave plantations were undoubtedly similar:

          4. In the U.S., on average, a slave mother gave birth to between nine and 10 children, “twice as many in the West Indies,” according to the Gilder Institute of American History. Yet, in 1860, “less than 10 percent of the slave population was over 50 and only 3.5 percent was over 60.”


          1. Felix_47

            The survival rate for slaves sent to the Americas was quite a bit higher than those sent to the Arabs. The Arabs had them castrated so they could be used around their women and the rate of infection and death following the procedure was quite high. Often Christian monks did the castrating to support their monasteries in North Africa since they had some experience with Castrati.

          2. animalogic

            If correct, I find any linkage or similarity between the Nazi treatment of slaves & the U.S treatment of slaves quite surprising on basic economic grounds.
            Nazi “slaves” were essentially disposable — whatever their economic value (They cost “nothing” to obtain & were considered in many/most cases to be racially “subhuman”). For the nazis ideology often trumped utility (to begin with, if the nazis had been more willing to employ women they would not have needed so many slaves).
            In the US context a slave represented an investment. Obviously this did not preclude neglect & cruelty, however, I would not have thought, on anything like the scale at which the nazis operated.
            Slavery for Nazis & the US did have one striking similarity: both forms of slavery were based upon racism, whereas slavery for the Romans, Ottomans etc had a very negligible racist element.

          3. JTFaraday

            “I think the internal pre-colonial African slave trade was much more like medieval European feudalism”

            If that’s the case, then there is not much of a slave TRADE.

            There are many forms of unfree labor.

        2. voislav

          Slavery trade was imposed by the Europeans who fought a number of wars with African kingdoms which were trying to suppress it. Read the history of the Kingdom of Kongo for example, which fought a number of wars against the Portuguese over slavery.
          Influx of money without the corresponding influx of goods has no economic benefit, it just drives inflation. The slave trade expanded the supply of money and constricted the supply of goods through labour pool reductions. So there are no economic benefits, just people who get rich (slave traders) while everyone else suffers.
          The slave trade was greatly expanded after the arrival of Europeans. What you call African merchants were mercenaries in pay of Portuguese, English and French traders that raided outlying communities and kidnapped people. If you create a demand there will always be unscrupulous people willing to use illegal means to supply the goods.

          1. tim s

            I find it very unlikely that no economic benefit was derived from the sale of slaves by the slave merchants. What would motivate them to go to the great trouble to provide slaves if they only got worthless paper? That doesn’t make sense on a basic human level. Besides, there is ample evidence that there were many Africans who benefited economically from the slave trade.

            Again, the slave trade predated the European arrival. I’m sure that there were no shortage of skirmishes over slavery – how could there not be? Regarding the Kongo, from Wikipedia

            In the following decades, the Kingdom of Kongo became a major source of slaves for Portuguese traders and other European powers. The Cantino Atlas of 1502 mentions Kongo as a source of slaves for the island of São Tomé. Slavery had existed in Kongo long before the arrival of the Portuguese, and Afonso’s early letters show the evidence of slave markets

            What “illegal means”? Where at that time was slavery “illegal” on the continent? Unscrupulous? These seem to be western psyche projections onto another culture very different from ours.

    3. PlutoniumKun

      Outside of war, the slave trade nearly always depends on some sort of co-operation with the source community. Historians still argue about the level of local conspiracy involved in one of the few Arab slave raids in northern Europe, the Sack of Baltimore. Those taken were mostly English immigrants to Ireland, and there have always been stories that the local gaelic community set them up. But there were also contemporary stories that it was a plot intended to weaken the local gaelic chief.

    4. greg

      David Graeber, in “DEBT, the First 5000 Years,” gives quite a lot of space to this, from a more anthropological point of view. While the evidence shows that various forms of ‘bondage’ did exist prior to 1500 or so, Graeber shows that they had nowhere near the scale and severity slavery acquired when the previously largely isolated communities were opened up to the trade.

      “DEBT” is a must read, and not just for this.

  2. The Heretic

    For me the salient idea, that applies to any country is this; the decline of trust and trustworthines in the culture and the degradation of formal and informal institutions that uphold and enforce these values is the recipe for poverty and civil war in the nation. Slaverey is a very direct factor that foments a culture of predation. In the USA there is a much more gradual process of job loss, poverty, social and legal disenfrachisement, that is unfortunatey building a culture if anger and distrust in the nation. A process now attacking the rural and small town white population of the USA which still accounts for half the country.

    Bad future prospects for the USA

    1. georgieboy2

      Good point.

      The author notes that “ethnic fractionalization” resulted from the slave business, and implies that was a bad thing. What does that say about the USA in the post-assimilation rapid-immigration racial-identity culture so beloved by some?

  3. TheCatSaid

    This is a great discussion of where slaves came from and the impact–or, some of the impact. A recent interview of polymath Win Keech talks about the how the slave trade (in which a small number of English and Scottish men played a disproportionately large role as slaveowners) led directly to aspects of finance, feudalism and debt that we take for granted today, including London’s ongoing financial strength. The History and Energetics of Money, Economic Cycles and Crashes. He says these facts are not widely known or acknowledged.

    1. Katharine

      The idea of the African slave trade (which I imagine is what you refer to) leading to any aspect of feudalism, which antedated it by several centuries, makes no sense. Is it possible that Keech was referring, or meant to refer, to mercantilism?

      1. nonsense factory

        “aspects of finance, feudalism and debt. . .”
        Finance is seen in the rise of Lloyd’s of London, which insured slave ships as speculative ventures for investors.
        Slave descendants sue Lloyd’s for billions, Guardian 2004
        Feudalism had many aspects of slavery, i.e. the system of serfs working land was rather similar to slavery and sharecropping, perhaps somewhere in between the two.
        Debt in those days was also a route into de facto slavery, with indentured servants being treated very similarly to slaves in the early American colonies.

        Many women came in those early years as indentured servants- often teenaged girls-and lived lives not much different from slaves, except that the term of service had an end.

        So, all those do have close ties to the slavery industry, a leading industry of its day. Very comparable in many aspects to how the international oil trade operates today, as well.

        1. Katharine

          I am not disputing similarities but sequence. The original comment said specifically that the slave trade “led directly to aspects of finance, feudalism and debt….” It is not possible for something to lead to that which preceded it. Feudalism even in England had effectively been superseded by other legal and economic relations by about 1500.

          1. barefoot charley

            Feudalism got a new lease on life in the American South and South America, with hereditary serfs now called slaves. This was a great leap backwards for all but the oligarchs.

          2. JTFaraday

            Well, when I read that the first time my brain automatically inserted “capitalism” for “feudalism.” Perhaps the speaker misspoke.

  4. alex morfesis

    my goodness…so harvard will soon be turning into Sankore University…although the question to be answered in respects to the darkness that was the slave trade is exceedingly important…this is such a mess as to question if the work is designed to discredit the subject matter…

    polygamy as in ? islam ?…is there an aids epidemic in islam that mayhaps we are not aware of ?? do the mormons who practice multiwifes have any such issues ?

    the extrapolation of a chart of a person who had conversations, not in the places the slaves were taken to, but from those who had avoided being taken as slaves (Koelle did interviews IN africa in the 1850’s, towards the end of global slave trading…and with less than 150 people in apparently only one part of africa)

    dont want to turn this into a hahvahd bash(i see you jim..) as the small amount of bad should never overwhelm the massive good…but this is a bit of a slip and slide, where it gives the impression the conclusion was the beginning of the project and data was gathered to justify the noise…

    Muslim traders sold off those who were not “of the book” who would not submit to praying 5 times per day…one of the things I believe shook malcolm to the core was his hajj and finding the Sauds had freed the slaves less than 24 months prior to his arrival…although the ending of slavery officially and the end of treating people like slaves is not quite the same thing…

    And there is no mention of the “asiento” from spain and its nobles/churchists

    at the purported beginnings of the sea based galleon slave trade, africa had a population that was about one half that of europe…today, africa has a population larger than europe…

    there were over the course of 400 years, +/- 125 thousand days, 100-150 humans per day removed from their environment and transported for the purposes of inhumane commerce…about 35-50 thousand per year…from a population of 40 million in africa at about the time columbus got lost and found a continent or two…about 1 % of the population…not insignificant, but the USA today has over 13% of its population that was foreign born…

    and for the record, I am for restitution (vs reparations) 150%…black folks never got the legislated land…and money…and what little they built was systematically converted over the course of 150 + years since that little incident at ford theater…and continues today…restitution is a good start…no need to go backwards to extrapolate…just look up all the conversions since 1865…plus interest…and damages…

    1. Robert Dannin

      “one of the things I believe shook malcolm to the core was his hajj and finding the Sauds had freed the slaves less than 24 months prior to his arrival…although the ending of slavery officially and the end of treating people like slaves is not quite the same thing…”

      precisely, malcolm willfully ignored the continuing presence of slaves in the retinue of his hosts during the hajj, preferring instead the happy mixed-race metaphor of the islamic umma (see “Garvey, Lumumba, Malcolm: Black Nationalist Separatists” (1979 )by Shawna Maglangbayan). more recently farrakhan continued this tradition by vigorously denying evidence of modern slavery in sudan and mauritiania presented by the late Samuel Cotton in
      “Silent Terror: A Journey into Contemporary African Slavery” (1999). to prove his point Cotton actually bought the contracts of slaves in those countries and freed them. Farrakhan attacked Cotton as a “zionist mercenary.”

  5. The Heretic

    I would add this… Trust is an outcome from trustworthy and civil/ legitamite behaviour between individual actors and as a whole innthe society. Trust is better fostered in an environment of trustworthiness and kindness. Conversley untrustworthy and unkind behaviour fosters animosity, scheming and uncivil vengeful behaviour; ie a society full of distrust.

    No great society wide achievement, such as prosperity built on productivty and cooperation, and a sense of justice and fairness for all, is then possible

  6. Si

    Wait a minute!

    There appears to me at least a spurious starting point to the logic which then launches the empirical approach. The assumption is that the poorest countries are those which have been most negatively impacted by slavery, so data which shows that the poorest did have the largest number taken as slaves proves the hypothesis. This is a move which confuses cause and effect. It could equally be argued that poor countries have less well established ‘protective’ institutions and laws, and means to prevent slaves being taken, and are thus more prone to a higher incidence.

    What am I missing? I don’t see the alternative hypothesis being disproved.

    As ’empirical’ as the approach may have been, the thinking is very poor.

    1. Geof

      What are you missing? These two paragraphs:

      An alternative interpretation . . . is that the parts of Africa from which the largest number of slaves were taken were initially the most underdeveloped. Today, because those characteristics persist, these parts of Africa continue to be underdeveloped and poor.

      I also tested this alternative hypothesis by checking whether it was, in fact, the initially least developed parts of Africa that engaged most heavily in the slave trades. I find that the data suggest that, if anything, it was the parts of Africa that were initially the most developed, not least developed, that supplied the largest number of slaves. In the analysis, I also used a statistical technique called instrumental variables estimation to identify the causal effect of the slave trade on economic development. The findings from the instrumental variables estimates suggested that increased extraction during the slave trades did, indeed, cause worse economic performance. Overall, the conclusion from the analyses is that the relationship shown in Figure 2 is most likely causal and not spurious.

      If I have a concern, it is normalizing based on land area. I imagine that normalizing based on population would be better, but I am guessing that those figures don’t exist so land area is the best proxy. Alternatively, land area might be relevant because it provides an indication of intensity: a lot of slaving activity in a small area probably has a larger impact than in a larger area even if the total populations are the same. Finally, country borders were drawn after the slave trade; in many cases, I presume, they were shaped by it. This might introduce complications; at the same time, it likely strengthens the case for making the country the relevant unit of analysis. All in all, these choices seem reasonable to me, and are supported by theory (causal mechanisms like trust and institutions), so I find the conclusion persuasive.

      1. Si

        Thanks – I did miss that.

        However given the following…

        “if anything, it was the parts of Africa that were initially the most developed, not least developed, that supplied the largest number of slaves”

        It would seem to me that is that it is not ‘supply’ as such, but the source. I would argue that the above supports the idea that there was an exploitation of the stronger over the weaker (poorer) so you expect the more developed parts of Africa to supply the the most. I really can’t see how this contradicts the alternative.

        Regarding the “suggestion” from the statistical analysis….. no data is given and we are expected to take on faith that this suggestion is sufficient.

        I am going to make a reasonable assumption that the data is sketchy at best and whatever statistical analysis it undertaken it is still on patchy data.

        Finally, no confidence limits are quoted so what does “suggest” mean?

    2. PlutoniumKun

      If you read the section of the article under Figure 2, you’ll see the author addresses exactly this point.

    3. clinical wasteman

      Although the writer’s intentions seem sound, I suspect that such problems as there are with the article are not in spite of but the direct result of the ’empirical’ or data-crunching approach. The more quantitative information available the better, of course, but methods derived from the physical sciences can’t be applied unmodified to history — or, it can at least be argued, to anything to do with subjective human experience — because it’s impossible to isolate an ‘experimental object’: whatever is counted up and analysed will always be inseparable from equally important factors irretrievably lost and/or defying all computer modelling in their drastic variation between cases. The silliness of ignoring this becomes especially obvious when Koelle’s 150 interviews are cited as some sort of quasi-scientific authority. Data come out of the data cocktail shaker as more data: all potentially useful, but unable to constitute a meaningful historical statement until the historian risks some sort of subjective synthesis, a partisan judgement. That’s why I’ll stick with CLR James and the other writers cited above over the ‘revisionist’ historiostatisticians of the 1980s and ever after, thank you very much.
      Also, does the phrase ’empirical history’ strike anyone else here as a hilarious oxymoron? Surely an ’empirical historian’ would have to be … an
      autobiographer. I guess that would mean s/he would sell more books though.

      1. clinical wasteman

        apologies for all those italics at the end: not intended; must have hit the respective buttons backwards.

  7. lyle

    Note that by this logic the problems in the Ukraine could also be blamed on slavery as it was a source for slaves in the Islamic Empire in the Middle Ages. (see Mamluks etc). In particular the Crimea was a major slave market at the time. Of course historically most slaves were the loosers in various wars, in particular Rome operated on enslaving conquered people.

    1. Kevskos

      Good point. There might be more data for Ukraine so it might validate the data from Africa that is probably much more scarce.

  8. Colonel Smithers

    Some of the firms known as acceptance houses and later merchant banks in the City of London were founded / funded by slave owners and planters with estates in the Caribbean and Mauritius. In some cases, the City house and the plantation were managed together, sometimes causing liquidity problems for the former.

    1. clinical wasteman

      Thanks Colonel for these telling historical fragments, which I think are more instructive than any tally of partial, underinterpreted data. (By which I don’t mean data are intrinsically useless, only that the Peer Reviewed practice of churning them into ‘ideology-free’ factoids — i.e. ultra-ideological trivia — turns history into accountancy. Though that may be unfair to accountants, at least some of whom would presumably be reluctant to sign off on books in which an indeterminate 80, 90 or 95% of items were missing and probably lost forever.)
      Concerning acceptance houses and all that, an unfashionably broad historical synthesis might even go one step further and say that the City and the plantations were founded together (17th century) and managed together for as long as it took for ‘free labor’ capitalism to establish itself on anything like a plantation-like scale, i.e. early 19th c. What other anticipated revenue stream could have induced London mercantilists to lend William III £1.2 million? No plantations, no Bank of England.
      Almost 150 years after abolition (of the trade, not British slavery itself), CLR James moved from Trinidad to London and was astonished to find that he still had to explain — again and again, to gentlemen scholars and Trotskyist intellectuals alike — that the anglo-Atlantic slave trade was not simply closed down by a few pious Tories “out of the goodness of their hearts”. In a neat pincer movement of ignorance, respectable opinion ignored both the competition between the British and the French/American/Spanish modes of production and the small matter of Haiti, i.e. the terrifying — depending on your point of view — consequences of leaving slaves to emancipate themselves.
      Respectable opinion now attends solemn gala openings of slave-narrative blockbusters, but apart from that it doesn’t seem to have changed all that much here.

  9. Colonel Smithers

    University College London has records online. One can see the ancestors of David Cameron, actor Benedict Cumberbatch and a well known family called Bazalgette as owning slaves.

  10. David

    Others have got there before me, but it’s just worth adding (this is from memory as I don’t have the books to hand) that whilst the absolute number of slaves transported was very large, this was because the trade took place over a very long period of time (four centuries to the West, considerably more to the East). I’ve heard a figure of about 2% of the then African population sold to foreigners as slaves every year, which means that population loss from slavery was less than from infant mortality generally, disease, famine and war. (It’s possible to calculate such figures from what we know about numbers and capacities of slaving ships, though I think information is less good for the Arab traders). You could make exactly the same argument that if infant mortality had been even slightly lower, the population of Africa would be much larger today. Likewise, a large but unknown number of Africans died in the intra-African slave trade, or through being marched to the coast to be sold (some changed hands two or three times). The best estimate I have seen is that about 95% of those involved in the slave trade were Africans. In addition, whilst it’s common to see slavery as an “African problem” it was not practiced to the same extent in all parts of Africa – much less in the South for example, so foreign traders tended to go there less. And my recollection is that the kingdoms of West Africa, from where the majority of the slaves came, were actually amor,g the most advanced societies in Africa at the time.

    1. Left in Wisconsin

      about 95% of those involved in the slave trade were Africans

      Is that counting or not counting the slaves?

      Is that like saying 95% of those involved with the iPhone are Chinese? Probably true but kind of misleading.

      1. David

        Not counting the slaves. Certainly, western traders seldom ventured inland from the coast so they were largely dependent on African suppliers. I think the Arabs were a bit more aggressive. But both were trading with a continent where slavery had been institutionalized for a long time. It’s true, as historians often point out, that intra-African slavery was not as barbaric in general as the export version, but had the trade not already existed, Europeans and Arabs could not have profited from it.

        1. barefoot charley

          The Europeans industrialized and globalized a local practice, and used it to create capital on a previously unimaginable scale. It is the scale of European exploitation that was unique, indeed it was (and to some still is) unimaginable.

          1. yamahog

            Do you have a source on the claim that slavery created capital on a previously unimaginable scale?

            I enjoy reading about economic history and most of my literature talks about fractional banking, corporate charters/personhood, and equity markets as the source of most pre-renaissance European capital.

            1. clinical wasteman

              I’m sure other people will be able to suggest more, but there are some sources cited in my comment earlier in this thread. Hallward touches on this point only relatively briefly, but once again, it’s hard to overstate the importance of CLR James (‘The Black Jacobins’ especially, but also parts of ‘Modern Politics’ and many often-anthologized shorter essays.) That and Peter Linebaugh/Marcus Rediker, ‘The Many-Headed Hydra’, and Basil Davidson, ‘The African Slave Trade’. And Eric Williams, ‘Capitalism and Slavery’, and yes, on some aspects at least, also David Graeber, ‘Debt’. Sorry no direct links, but a lot of James’s writing is available for free at the Marxists Internet Archive [https://www.marxists.org/]; and both Linebaugh and Graeber are hostile to existing intellectual property law, so it may be possible to find part or all of their books online somewhere, original publishers permitting.
              Not quite sure, though, which part of this ‘claim’ looks improbable without an explicit source? Is there any doubt that an unprecedented amount of capital was accumulated over the 17th-19th centuries and eventually fed into ‘proper’ capitalism, or that a large chunk of it came through the triangular trade and the plantation system? If not from there, where? Marx writes at length about the English enclosure movement and the Scottish Highland Clearances, but those are used as a conveniently coherent example of how ‘primitive accumulation’ works: they’re not supposed to be the sole source of all capital. (If anyone is curious about how ‘primitive accumulation’ goes on working today, see Rosa Luxemburg, ‘The Accumulation of Capital’, Silvia Federici, ‘Caliban and the Witch’, and the journal Midnight Notes, much of which should be archived at Libcom.org.)

            2. Left in Wisconsin

              It’s not directly about slavery and he’s not a Marxist as far as I know but I believe Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton makes the claim that English capital and American plantations fundamentally remade global capitalism.

              1. clinical wasteman

                Thanks, I don’t know Beckert but will try to find that. Nothing surprising at all about the point being acknowledged in a non-Marxist context: most of the writers that first came to mind come from that sort of background (not Graeber though, or not at least not his foreground); meanwhile all too many self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’ cling to the belief that capital/ism sprang fully formed from ‘advanced’ European civilization. Whereas if I were trying to convince someone very sceptical that the ‘labor theory of value’, ‘primitive accumulation’ and the ‘tendency of the rate of profit to fall’ are useful concepts to apply to the modern world (though not to read mechanistically into single news items), I would probably reach first for Adam Smith, who doesn’t use the two latter but unmistakably sketches all three concepts from an opposed class standpoint. His theory of colonization and crisis in chapter 9 (or maybe 10? don’t have it in front of me) is remarkably close to Luxemburg’s, except he sees it from the point of “investor’s” point of view.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I was thinking that too, but I would imagine that even if the absolute number per year was quite low – the death rate and disruption and spread of disease would have had a disproportional effect. For example, it would be hard to do certain types of agriculture if having all the men out working in the fields at a particular time made them vulnerable to slave raids. And many may have died resisting slavers. I would imagine the slave trade would have also made the spread of disease more likely

    3. visitor

      I’ve heard a figure of about 2% of the then African population sold to foreigners as slaves every year, which means that population loss from slavery was less than from infant mortality generally, disease, famine and war.

      The problem, which other commentators have pointed out, is that those 2% concern essentially the young, productive part of the population — those who had already survived infant mortality, and also disease, famine and war.

      Just to put a point of comparison: French deaths because of war operations during WWI amounted to 4.39% of its population. This is a fraction of its population irremediably lost, just like slaves taken away constituted an irremediably lost fraction of the African population, and just like slaves, the young, most productive, robust French in reproductive years (and also heavily skewed towards males).

      That bloodletting durably traumatized France and the consequences were visible in its population pyramid generations later.

      And still: 4.39% in 4 years is vastly less than 2% per year for centuries.

      1. tim s

        2% per year for centuries does not seem like an insurmountable loss. If the environment will support the full 100%, then reproduction alone will fill the gaps. I’m not sure what the life expectancy was in Africa at that time, but I doubt that many lived to old age, so the majority of the population would have skewed toward younger and more productive.

        It is assumed with some of these comments that the best and the brightest were the primary portion of this 2%. I’d argue that the best and the brightest were not, since those would have been most capable of avoiding capture and enslavement. If that were the case, then, taken alone, a 2% annual removal of the lesser capable from the gene pool on the continent may not have been a net negative at all, from a biological perspective

        1. Outis Philalithopoulos

          Your second paragraph is jaw-dropping. “I’d argue that the best and the brightest were not, since those would have been most capable of avoiding capture and enslavement.”??!

          Do you imagine all of this was like a video game? The most awesome, athletic Africans were able to brilliantly elude the armies that came to attack their villages, hide in the wilderness, and later join up with another tribe (whose language they might not speak) and return to fight again and improve the gene pool?

          What about the (stereotypical) young dreamy poets? What about young mothers and pregnant women? Clearly they would be less likely to avoid capture, therefore not among the best and the brightest.

          This theory is the logical endpoint of the economist/libertarian doctrine that “if it happens, it’s rational; if it’s rational, it’s for the best.” Where by “logical endpoint,” I mean “pushed far into the zone of self-parody.”

          1. tim s

            The most awesome, athletic Africans were able to brilliantly elude the armies that came to attack their villages, hide in the wilderness, and later join up with another tribe (whose language they might not speak) and return to fight again and improve the gene pool?

            Not a video game, but a realistic scenario. Similar to not needing to be faster than the bear chasing you, just faster than the person running next to you. Why is that jaw-dropping?

            1. Outis Philalithopoulos

              Your scenario is a video game. People are like D&D characters, with traits like “stamina” and “strength” and “quickness;” these affect how they cope with monsters they run into. Furthermore:

              1. You didn’t respond to my example of young mothers and pregnant women. Expanding on the point, if we add a trait of “tries to protect other people” to your D&D cards, anyone with a high score on this trait will tend to be eliminated.

              2. You didn’t respond to my example of (stereotypical) young, easily distracted people with imagination. These might otherwise become important figures within a local culture, but they are probably bad at escaping from predators.

              3. You ignored the point about how even if a few athletic people were to escape, they might easily find themselves isolated from any sort of social environment. Under these circumstances, and throwing in the fact that they would likely be quite angry, it is just as plausible to imagine them becoming bandits or even slave traders as it is to suppose that they would sit around and passively “enrich the gene pool” through their generally superior qualities.

        2. visitor

          2% population loss per year for a sustained period of time is a massive bloodletting. During WWII, countries which had comparable death rates where those where genocidal activities took place on a massive scale. Even Germany, with all the destruction and fighting taking place there, and the considerable manpower lost all over the world, never reached that level. You just do not apprehend what those figures mean.

          As for life expectancy in Africa, it must have been comparable to other pre-industrial societies. Low average (about 32 years) because of massive child mortality, with a not insignificant number of people reaching old age.

          Because pre-industrial societies had stable, or very slowly growing populations, 2% losses per year must have been a substantial long-term demographic drag.

          Slave raiders deployed a variety of tactics to ensure that they caught the “interesting” individuals. Thus, in the whole Sahel region, they relied upon cavalry. Your arguments on the gene pool are nonsense.

    4. Ignacio

      For every single slave arriving his/her destiny, many more had already passed away in the process. Don’t you remember that?

  11. gepay

    Think of the barbaric colonization of the Congo by King Leopold. Notice that when the Congo received its independence in a population of over 14 million, there were 16 native university graduates and 136 high school graduates.. Followed by the interference of the US – the assassination of Lumumba and the CIA supported dictatorship of Mobutu. the interference of the Europeans in the mineral rich province of Katanga. Even today the US supported interference of Rwanda keeps turmoil bubbling. Somehow with millions of Congolese dying from the turmoil since the end of Mobutu’s kleptocracy, the export of coltan needed for cell phones has never been interrupted. I think this was/is a greater impediment than any result of the slave trade.
    Then there is the stupid, possibly racist implication that the high amount of illness attributed to HIV infection is the result of African women’s increased sexual partners. There are hardly any HIV tests done in Africa (due to the cost) to confirm HiV infection. These Africans are ill because of poverty, bad water, malnutrition, and parasites – the main being malaria. Viruses do not manifest differently on different continents

    1. visitor

      I think this was/is a greater impediment than any result of the slave trade.

      Congo during the domination by the Belgians, especially during its initial period of ownership by the Belgian king Leopold II, was one giant slave operation. Historians are still unsure whether the exploitation and rampage by the Belgians killed 5 millions or 10 millions Congolese in the 25 years or so just of that first phase.

  12. Softie

    The northern industrialists found that ownership slavery practiced by the southern plantations was too expensive and inflexible, because owners of slaves had to provide maintenance of their slaves. The northerners much prefered wage slavery, that requires no maintenance of wage slaves but produces much higher profits. So we are still in slavery. There’s nothing new under the sun.

    1. lyle

      Actually the biggest factor to the end of slavery was the banning of slavery in the British Empire in 1833 (a compensated emancipation). This occurred after the sugar islands declined in importance. A bit earlier it was the Slave Trade Act of 1807 that ordered the British Navy to actively hunt down slavers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Africa_Squadron
      Although the US banned importing slaves in 1808 it was the British Navy that made the difference as at the time Britannia did rule the waves (This was after Trafalgar in 1805 which left the British Navy ruling the waves).

  13. craazyman

    Wow. The Friends and Family plan doesn’t look very good here does it. Makes you wonder how insane somebody has to be. It would be hard to measure that for sure. You’d need some sort of multiple choice test:

    How likely are you to sell your best friend into slavery if they went out partying and didn’t invite you?
    a) definitely
    b) very likely
    c) likely
    d) possibly
    e) probably not but it might happen somehow

    Would you sell your sister into slavery for:
    a) $1 million dollars cash
    b) $500,000 guaranteed by a highly credit worthy counterparty
    c) an annuity payment of $35,000 per year for life
    d) $15
    e) nothing, I’d do it tomorrow if I could

    Let’s say you have 11 brothers and sisters. How many of them would you miss if they were sold into slavery?
    a) I’d miss one or two
    b) None
    c) I’d miss all of them, but only for a few weeks
    d) not sure
    e) all of the above

    If you have a cat, a dog and 10 friends, how would you think about monetizing the situation?
    a) sell the cat
    b) sell the dog
    c) sell all 10 friends
    d) sell anything that moves
    e) all of the above

    The “judicial process” looks even worse. It should be pretty easy to come up with survey questions there.

    You could then do some social science and come up with an equation for it all. Then you could hit the lecture circuit.

  14. tiebie66

    I do not understand how the following conclusion is arrived at: “if the slave trades had not occurred, then 72% of the average income gap between Africa and the rest of the world would not exist today,”. It seems that southern africa largely escaped the slave trade, thus, at best, the rest of the sub-saharan continent would have had an income (Fig. 2) similar to that of Swaziland (or about 20% better for the worst affected countries, e.g. Guinea-Bissau). There still would have been a wide gap relative to other developing countries (assuming the ordinate is in dollars per day).

    Was a lack of technological development with subsequent overpopulation (i.e., exceeding the carry capacity of the land and having nowhere else to go) a root cause of the widespread presence of slavery in Africa?

    A further conclusion seems suspect: “In other words, had the slave trades not occurred, Africa would not be the most underdeveloped region of the world and it would have a similar level of development to Latin America or Asia.” Without an analysis of the slave trade effects on Latin America and Asia, both experienced slavery, such a conclusion cannot be drawn. It seems to me one should compare the effects of slavery at the hands of others for different groups before any such generalization can be made. For example, it is necessary to compare the effects of enslavement of Asians by Europeans to the effects of enslavement of Africans by Europeans.

    Europeans also were enslaved by the Ottoman Turks and North African states.
    “A new study suggests that a million or more European Christians were enslaved by Muslims in North Africa between 1530 and 1780 – a far greater number than had ever been estimated before.
    Robert Davis

    In a new book, Robert Davis, professor of history at Ohio State University, developed a unique methodology to calculate the number of white Christians who were enslaved along Africa’s Barbary Coast, arriving at much higher slave population estimates than any previous studies had found.”

    It would also be useful to show that Africa had a level of technological and social development prior to 1500, that was comparable to those of Europe, Central America, and Asia, and that the subsequent development of the slave trade impeded further progress, thus causing the discrepancies currently observed. If Africa was already lagging at this time, one simply cannot conclude that “the average income gap between Africa and the rest of the world would not exist today.”

  15. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    The three words: heart of darkness, are probably as good as any to describe the above, which was almost certainly the worst case of a brutal tradition for mankind. I believe it was initially sugar in the Caribbean that was the cash crop that produced the demand for a labour force that would cope better with the terrible conditions than the indentured poor of Europe, whose mortality rate in the plantations was excessive.

    The Arabs were not very fussy in their choice of the ultimate in cheap labour & in the early 17th century especially, through Barbary pirates took thousands captive from Devon & Cornwall.

    The book ” Sufferings in Africa ” which tells the story of Cpt. Riley, the captain of an American merchant ship that was shipwrecked off the West coast, whose crew were then all enslaved, was apparently the book that influenced Lincoln most in terms of his opinion towards slavery.

    We are a sorry species.

  16. Guglielmo Tell

    This is disgusting – and I mean THE ARTICLE is disgusting. What a big f*****g discovery! History?! Read Walter Rodney’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”! And the most disgusting is the “vertical” concept of “development” which implies that Third World is suffering from “backwardness”. It (badly) can be taken from the ignorant public, but not from an economist. Mr. Nunn doesn’t understand that “underdevelopment” is PROVOKED by the First World’s “development” and its colonial regimes which CONTINUE under the mask of Third World’s independence. First World’s “freedom of choice” offered to the rest of the world: “you die starved or you die bombed”. Mr. Nunn simply choses the first and then subscribes to the White Master’s ideology: blame it all on the victims. Walter Rodney, the Latin American Dependency Theory – not a word, all to be supressed, all “propaganda”. Phoo!

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