Archives for slavery



Child Trafficking and the Internet

Chatting with a seatmate on a flight, I learned she was attending a conference, hosted by Shared Hope International, on domestic trafficking in minor children. Naively and optimistically, I asked if this problem has been diminishing.  No, quite the contrary.  Why?  The reason appears to be economic, having to do with technological change and technology transfer.  With the internet, it is much easier to engage in transactions — nothing needs to be done face-to-face, thus reducing the risk to traffickers. Also, organized crime is getting involved since the trade is so profitable, as at-risk children can be traded repeatedly (unlike an ounce of crack cocaine). With some modifications, an established drug network can be used as a child-sex network.  Disgusting, horrible, and a negative side-effect of technological progress.  (HT: JM)



Why Something Won’t Sell, Even at Fire-Sale Prices

Deuteronomy 28:68 states “ye shall sell yourselves unto your enemies for bondmen and for bondwomen, and no man shall buy you.”  Oh dear, even at a price of zero, supply would exceed demand.  (Josephus noted that there were so many slaves on the market when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 C.E. that many couldn’t be sold even at fire-sale prices.) 

Why not buy a slave at no cost?   The answer, presumably, is that potential buyers already owned so many low-priced slaves that they believed that another slave’s marginal product would fall short of his or her upkeep.  The variable cost of maintaining the slave must have exceeded his/her output.  Is there a contemporary analogy to teaching assistants?



Father of Our Country as an Economist

In his book Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow quotes a letter that speaks to the hoary economic historians’ debate about the profitability of slavery.  Washington noted that in his time Virginia estates were forever doomed to lapse into debt, “as Negroes [sic] must be clothed and fed and taxes paid…whether anything is made or not.”  Even if slavery were on average profitable, Washington noted that slaves represented a fixed cost of production.  Read More »



Hatred and Profits: Getting Under the Hood of the Ku Klux Klan

That is the title of my latest academic working paper, written with Roland Fryer. It details the rise and fall of the Klan in the 1920s. Incredibly, the Klan had millions of members at that time, and most of them were reasonably well-educated. Based on a variety of data sources, we argue that, despite its […] Read More »



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 […] Read More »