Capitalism and Slavery

So much for capitalism's good deed. Now Prof Harari looks at the downsides of completely free markets. Another segment hard to summarize, but some examples may help. By the end of the middle ages, slavery had nearly disappeared in Europe. The mines and plantations of the Americas and elsewhere needed labor, and the Atlantic Slave trade was created to supply that. Slave trading companies were traded on the European stock exchanges and were highly profitable. The Atlantic slave trade was a capitalist creation.

Another crime of equal scale was the Great Bengal famine of 1770. This famine killed ten million Bengalis and was largely the creation of the British East India company and its disastrously greedy policies.

These events illustrate a key problem with unregulated free markets: money has no conscience or morality. The more powerful actors in markets have great power to oppress the less powerful.

Capitalists, says Harari, have two answers to that: First, mistakes were made, but they now know better, and second, there is no real alternative. The only serious alternative tried, says Harari, was Communism, and that was such a disaster that nobody wants to go back.


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