The Economist reviews a book on slavery. They had some bones to pick. Excerpts below, italicized.

If you were obedient you were probably fine!

Slaves who gave surly answers risked a whipping from their masters.

Let's not forget about American/white exceptionalism. historian at Cornell University, is not being especially contentious when he says that America owed much of its early growth to the foreign exchange, cheaper raw materials and expanding markets provided by a slave-produced commodity. But he overstates his case when he dismisses "the traditional explanations" for America's success: its individualistic culture, Puritanism, the lure of open land and high wages, Yankee ingenuity and government policies.

We just don't have all the evidence

Mr Baptist cites the testimony of a few slaves to support his view that these rises in productivity were achieved by pickers being driven to work ever harder by a system of "calibrated pain". The complication here was noted by Hugh Thomas in 1997 in his definitive history, "The Slave Trade"; an historian cannot know whether these few spokesmen adequately speak for all.

They had to treat their slaves well!

Another unexamined factor may also have contributed to rises in productivity. Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century. Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their "hands" ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment.



Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.