Lessons from a fight between economists and historians

By The Economist online

IN A fascinating new piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marc Parry examines an intense, ongoing debate between historians and economists on the role American slavery played in the industrial revolution. A number of recent books by historians (including Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told, with which The Economist has an unfortunate history) argue that growth in output in American cotton, made possible by America’s slave economy (and rising brutality within it), was crucial in fostering the nascent industrial revolution, which had its beginnings in the mechanisation of textile industries. The conclusions of these historians stand in stark contrast to the general view among economists and economic historians, that in the absence of slavery, industrialisation would have occurred more or less as it actually…

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