… is a “little squib” (her description) that Deirdre McCloskey left recently in the Times (London) Respond portal and shared with me by e-mail:
Both Senator [Tom] Cotton [R-AR] and the 1619 Project have the economic history wrong. (Ironically, the erroneous economic premise they share was exactly that asserted in 1850 by Southern apologists: “we” all need slaves.)
Admittedly their claim that slavery was “a necessary evil upon which the union was built” echoes Lincoln’s noble sentiment in his Second Inaugural Address–that the bondsman’s labor 1619-1865 was what piled up US wealth. But it is false. If it were true, the numerous slave societies of olden times, such as Rome in 30 BCE or Norway in 700 CE, would have long ago experienced the Great Enrichment, of 3,000 percent per person for the poorest in Britain and Japan and many other non-slave places 1800 to the present. Likewise, by now Canada, say, with no slaves or much of any connection with slavery, would have remained very poor. Switzerland. New Zealand. Botswana.
What “built”” the US and every other country now prosperous was not stealing from poor people, or for that matter piling up routine investment, but massive innovation—cheap steel, electricity, vaccines, the modern university, mobility of labor and capital, the internal combustion engine, sewage treatment, artificial fertilizer, radio, radar, free trade, jet planes, the green revolution, containerization, computers, and above all the shamefully delayed but in the end thoroughly achieved liberation of slaves, poor men, women, colonial peoples, immigrants, free Blacks, gays. Under what Adam Smith called “the obvious and simple system of natural liberty”—in a word, liberalism– -people were permitted for the first time to have a go. It was their new liberty to innovate, not slavery or forced investment, that made billions rich, and will make the entire world rich. Or it will do so unless the 1619 Project and Senator Cotton, populists of left or right, with their Just-So understandings of history, kill it.