Slavery Wasn’t A “White Blessing” Either

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Posted: Jun 24, 2020 12:11 PM
Slavery Wasn’t A “White Blessing” Either

Source: Mark Gormus/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP

Pastor Louis Giglio of Passion City Church recently said something that got him in hot water:

“We missed the blessing of slavery that it actually built up the framework for the world that white people live in—and so a lot of people call this ‘white privilege’....let’s get over the phrase...I think maybe a great thing for me is to call it ‘white blessing’ because I’m living in the blessing of the curse that allowed me to grow up generationally in Atlanta.”

He said this in a forum about race where he was present on the stage with Dan Cathy of Chick fil A and the rap artist Lecrae. Of course the Twitter/Instagram/cable news backlash was rapid and more than understandable.

I’m not interested in joining in and tossing a brick at him. I don’t like Twitter mobs, even when they have a point.

But I am interested in weighing in on the unexamined premise of the quote, one which might well be shared by Pastor Giglio and his detractors – that slavery was good for the American economy.

I want to make a nerdy economist point here. I've always had a problem with the premise that slavery was economically effective. This basic narrative is that slavery was highly economically productive, but of course morally indefensible. A similar argument was made about communism (which is another form of slavery), in which some anti-communists conceded to the idea that communism was efficient, but that this efficiency came at the loss of human freedom. The fall of the USSR revealed that it was far from economically efficient. Seems like we should also seriously question the efficient-but-evil presupposition about slavery. It wasn't just evil -- it was stupid too. As a system it was economically stagnating. It held the South back. The US didn't become the world's largest economy until after abolition and reconstruction. If slavery made America great, why was the South an economic laggard, while the North led the world? It is waste of a man to turn him into an animal or a machine. A mind really is a terrible thing to waste.

That's how economics got dubbed 'the dismal science' by Carlyle. He saw that advocates of free markets were attacking slavery along economic as well as moral grounds. Carlyle wanted to keep a class system built on top of a slave class. At the time poetry was known as 'the gay science'. Carlyle believed that you could not have a higher class which could read and write poetry unless you had a slave class. So economists were trying to abolish slavery and replace it with a market system, which traditionalists understood meant the end of their free ride. And you know what? We didn’t lose poetry. We just lost bad poetry inked by the listless children of the aristocracy.

Slavery was a curse. It certainly was a horrible curse to the slaves, but in a very real sense, it cursed the whole economy of the South. Both curses still reverberate with us today.