… is from page 243 of Deirdre N. McCloskey’s pioneering 2010 volume, Bourgeois Dignity :
[W]e cannot account for the riches of rich countries by reference to exploitation of poor people.
Deirdre acknowledges that a great deal of exploitation has occurred throughout history – exploitation that enriched some people and impoverished others. (Indeed, such exploitation continues to occur in various forms and degrees.) But the enormous, sustained, and widespread growth in the material wealth of market-oriented societies over the past 200 years is far too great to be the product of extractions from poor people. An armed robber can indeed gain more material wealth for himself if he successfully confiscates the pennies, Metro cards, and cell phones from the purses of some hapless, poor victims of his predations. But he isn’t going to get rich preying upon such people – and such people will not get rich by being preyed upon. If we group these two classes of people – armed robbers, and poor victims of armed robbers – into a unit called “society,” no one imagines that that society grows richer through the exploitation by members of one of these groups of members of the other.
Yet the exact same sort of not-so-imaginative fantasy is believed by people who insist that modern capitalist prosperity is the product of slavery, of colonialism, or of cruel factory owners using monopsony power to exploit poor workers. Such people argue that enormous wealth for the masses can be extracted by exploitation of the poor masses. Such people believe, in effect, that squeezing stones hard enough produces a cornucopia of fruit and honey. It’s a nutty belief.