The discussion associated with this entry eventually veered onto the counterfactual question of how wealthy the US would have been in 1900 if there had been no slavery in the US. Now, for many, this might be the sort of counterfactual that is so divorced from reality — like what would have happened if Napolean had had stealth bombers at Waterloo — that it isn’t that interesting. (See here for a good introduction to the use of counterfactual reasoning in history.) I take no position on how plausible this counterfactual was — perhaps slavery in the US was inevitable — but I am ready to believe stories centered around the religious motivations of early settlers in which slavery is forbidden in the US.

In any event, Shamus writes:

“Even if slavery had been outlawed in the US in 1620, the US would have been about as wealthy in 1900 as it ended up being.”

David please prove this. Provide me with written scholarly work that backs up your assertion with facts. No offense to your econ background because it leaves mine in the dust, but I’d like an Economic analysis from someone who has been studying for at least 30 years and specializes in the economics of slavery. The burden of proof is on you as well.

First, I would argue that the burden of proof is not on me. An anonymous poster claimed that

America DOES owe a lot of its economic success to slavery. Without the massive amount of enslaved people imported and used as capital, without the free labor they were forced to provide, American industry and trade would not have reached the heights they did.

Why isn’t the burden on him to show that the US would have been a lot poorer than it was in the absence of slavery? But let’s ignore the burden of proof issue.

Second, I have spent a bit of time looking and I can’t find any writing, scholarly or otherwise, which speculates on what the US would have looked like in 1900 in the absence of slavery. My answer is that the US would have looked like other English speaking colonies without (much) slavery, places like Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In fact, one of the reasons that the North was ready to go to war against the South in 1860 is that its economic interests were not overly tied into the institution of slavery. The typical citizen of Massachusetts was not much affected, one way or the other, by the existence of slavery in Alabama.

If anything, I think that the US would have had a higher GDP in 1900 than it ended up having because there would have been no occasion for an incredibly destructive civil war.

Perhaps this is plausible. Perhaps not. Can anyone point to any other writing on this topic? The comments are open, so feel free to provide your own description. In a world without slavery, what would America have looked like in 1900?

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