Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management

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A Five Books Best Economics Book of the Year
A Politico Great Weekend Read
A Seminary Co-op Notable Book of the Year

The traditional story of modern management looks to the factories of England and New England, but Caitlin Rosenthal discovered that Southern planter-capitalists practiced an early form of scientific management. They took meticulous notes, carefully recording daily profits and productivity, and subjected their slaves to experiments and incentive strategies comprised of rewards and brutal punishment. Contrary to narratives that depict slavery as a barrier to innovation, Accounting for Slavery explains how elite planters turned their power over enslaved people into a productivity advantage. The result is a groundbreaking investigation of business practices in Southern and West Indian Plantations and an essential contribution to our understanding of slavery's relationship with capitalism.

"Slavery in the United States was a business. A morally reprehensible--and very profitable business... Rosenthal argues that slaveholders...were using advanced management and accounting techniques long before their northern counterparts. Techniques that are still used by businesses today."
--Marketplace (American Public Media)

"The evolution of modern management is usually associated with good old-fashioned intelligence and ingenuity... But capitalism is not just about the free market; it was also built on the backs of slaves."

Publication Date: 
October 15, 2019