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Capitalism Destroys Slavery

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

John Addison Teevan rightly rejects the claim that slavery is a capitalist institution (Letters, Sept. 16).  Slavery began soon after the invention of agriculture and disappeared only with the emergence of modern capitalism.  Moreover, widespread opposition to slavery arose first in those societies that first became capitalist.

The forces endemic to capitalism that undermine slavery are many.  Among these is entrepreneurial innovation.  This innovation broadens and intensifies competition for workers.  Specifically, new industries can get the workers they need, on the most favorable terms, only by competing them away from older, established industries.  Even if each owner of every established farm and firm wants to enslave his workers, market entrepreneurs resist such an obstacle to the manpower necessary to transform their entrepreneurial visions into productive realities.

In short, innovative entrepreneurs – defining agents of capitalism – have no use for slavery.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030