Et tu, Economist?
The Economist, which is a serious-minded publication for serious-minded people, plus it’s published in London and if you imagine its articles being read by someone with an English accent they sound really smart, just published a review of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward Baptist. Rather than discuss what the book does say, the anonymous reviewer dismisses it as an attack on “[American] individualistic culture, Puritanism, the lure of open land and high wages, Yankee ingenuity”.
The reviewer goes on to discuss the threefold increase in cotton picked per slave-day between 1800 and 1860, which Mr. Baptist, quoting actual slaves, attributes to their being worked harder. Mr. Anonymous is skeptical; using the sort of analysis you’d expect from a magazine with the word “economist” is its name, he speculates that it might also be the result of improved planting techniques, better irrigation, newer tools, higher-yielding strains of cotton … Actually, he doesn’t. I made that part up. What he really writes is “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.” And while it’s true that he offers no evidence of any kind to support this other than the just-so story quoted above, it would be uncharitable to think that he says it purely to downplay the evils of slavery. Until his next sentence, anyway:
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.
Apparently, Baptist is guilty of writing a history of slavery in which the slaves are more sympathetic than their enslavers. I hope that if he follows it up with a book about the Holocaust, he can find a way to be more objective.