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Washington Times Letter on Slavery and the Dismal Science

This letter of mine in the February 14th, 2005, edition of the Washington Times was inspired by this research by my GMU Econ colleague David Levy and his co-author Sandy Peart:

Thomas Sowell is right: the first serious and successful abolitionist movement arose in 18th-century Britain (“The essential Lincoln … ending slavery,” Saturday, Commentary). Not coincidentally, it was also there and then that free markets first took deep roots and blossomed into the Industrial Revolution. In just a few generations, that revolution freed the masses, slave and non-slave alike, from the ages-old grip of unfathomable poverty.

It’s also no coincidence that classical economists, who explained and applauded free markets, forthrightly opposed slavery. So outspoken were economists that in 1849, the pro-slavery Thomas Carlyle excoriated them as practicing “the dismal science.” In using that term he was alluding to the dark and foreboding future he feared would result from abolition.

Me, I’m proud to be a dismal scientist.

Chairman, Department of Economics
George Mason University