The Consequences of Slavery in Africa

Nathan Nunn, an economist at the University of British Columbia, has written an interesting working paper called “The Long-Term Effects of Africa’s Slave Trade.” His abstract sums it up well:

Can part of Africa’s current underdevelopment be explained by its slave trades? To explore this question, I use data from shipping records and historical documents reporting slave ethnicities to construct estimates of the number of slaves exported from each country during Africa’s slave trades. I find a robust negative relationship between the number of slaves exported from a country and current economic performance. To better understand if the relationship is causal, I examine the historical evidence on selection into the slave trades, and use instrumental variables. Together the evidence suggests that the slave trades have had an adverse effect on economic development.

So Nunn finds that “the African countries that are the poorest today are the ones from which the most slaves were taken.” Does this mean, however, that the extraction of slaves caused those countries to remain poor? Nunn is careful to say that the evidence is not conclusive, since it may be that the African countries that were chaotic and corrupt enough to support the slave trade in the first place may have continued to suffer economically for those same reasons.

Regardless, it is a really interesting paper — and a good preamble, of sorts, to Fogel and Engerman‘s Time on the Cross, which argued that American slavery was less inefficient, and less miserable, than previously thought.

Nunn’s paper is also a good reminder that when many Americans think of Africa, they think of … well, Africa, a continent, as opposed to the many different African nations, each of which has its own set of bounties and problems.

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  1. holly says:

    quoting…”Had there been no slave trade out of Africa, these engineers, chemists, physicists and so on, would have been in Africa and would have enriched their own land with their research and pioneering spirit. That is something I do not see the abstract addressing, either; the tie between slavery and loss of intellectual minds needed for development and advancement in a society.”

    “So if a country’s best, physically speaking, people are removed from a society what happens? According to Darwinism, the society will eventually collapse.”
    …………………

    Just to mention…because of this thought that slaves were picked for their physical qualities… and physical qualities = brains… claiming “Overseas slavery works as a brain-and-muscle-drain”.

    I’m not saying that some slaves leaving the country weren’t strong and smart… I’m sure some were…but to make it seem like the best were captured …draining africa of it brains and brawn seems like a BIG stretch. Seems like the captured couldn’t have been the “quickest”… or they wouldn’t have got caught in the first place.

    Also physical qualities don’t always add up to “deep thinkers”. How many times have we seen the dim witted hunky guy or clueless pretty girl…but the wimpy little scrawny nerd… is the one with all the brains.

    Logically…it stands to reason that there must have been a lot of “muscle” to remain in africa… because it wouldn’t have been “wimpy” africans rounding up the captured slaves. (Since it WAS africans capturing other africans) Plus…the hunters would have had to have some ability to strategically think… to be able to plot & plan how to trap the slaves.

    So I don’t understand why people would assume captured slaves were the best and brightest of the group.

    And I really don’t think the african tribe’s king cared if he was selling the “best” product. I’m sure it was more about head count to him. Does anyone know exactly how slaves were sold IN africa… to the slave ships? As a group…or on an individual basis…each one evaluated for a price?

    In all honesty…wouldn’t the truly physically strong and bright have figured out a way to NOT get caught in the first place?

    I don’t know…Just something to think about.

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  2. holly says:

    quoting…”Had there been no slave trade out of Africa, these engineers, chemists, physicists and so on, would have been in Africa and would have enriched their own land with their research and pioneering spirit. That is something I do not see the abstract addressing, either; the tie between slavery and loss of intellectual minds needed for development and advancement in a society.”

    “So if a country’s best, physically speaking, people are removed from a society what happens? According to Darwinism, the society will eventually collapse.”
    …………………

    Just to mention…because of this thought that slaves were picked for their physical qualities… and physical qualities = brains… claiming “Overseas slavery works as a brain-and-muscle-drain”.

    I’m not saying that some slaves leaving the country weren’t strong and smart… I’m sure some were…but to make it seem like the best were captured …draining africa of it brains and brawn seems like a BIG stretch. Seems like the captured couldn’t have been the “quickest”… or they wouldn’t have got caught in the first place.

    Also physical qualities don’t always add up to “deep thinkers”. How many times have we seen the dim witted hunky guy or clueless pretty girl…but the wimpy little scrawny nerd… is the one with all the brains.

    Logically…it stands to reason that there must have been a lot of “muscle” to remain in africa… because it wouldn’t have been “wimpy” africans rounding up the captured slaves. (Since it WAS africans capturing other africans) Plus…the hunters would have had to have some ability to strategically think… to be able to plot & plan how to trap the slaves.

    So I don’t understand why people would assume captured slaves were the best and brightest of the group.

    And I really don’t think the african tribe’s king cared if he was selling the “best” product. I’m sure it was more about head count to him. Does anyone know exactly how slaves were sold IN africa… to the slave ships? As a group…or on an individual basis…each one evaluated for a price?

    In all honesty…wouldn’t the truly physically strong and bright have figured out a way to NOT get caught in the first place?

    I don’t know…Just something to think about.

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  3. Ellie Nield says:

    please can you tell me some infomation on the conequences of disobedience in the slavery,as soon as possible? thanks :)
    Ellie Nield

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