How slavery has been discussed and analyzed by economists Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and John Mill

History of Economic Thought

The history of economic thought entails different theories, approaches, and philosophers that evolved from economics to political economy from ancient to present periods. Political economy refers to the study of the human beings in the ordinary business life. Political economy assesses an individual’s social actions related to attaining well-being. For instance, in ancient Greek, philosophers like Aristotle examined various theories of acquiring wealth and were not able to tell if the properties would be left in private hands or in public. Long before industrial evolution, Renaissance categorized the history of economic thought as a science of thinkers and academicians from the West. Also, in the western world, until the industrial revolution and its resultant economic growth, Economics was considered a discipline of philosophy.

Why should we study the history of economic thought?

However, the need to study the history of economic thought focuses on understanding the economic growth of the world from mainly pre-industrial and agricultural economies. The study of the history of economic thought indicates that there are parts of units in economic theory which connect the society with ancient periods. It also aids in understanding where economics originates. Also, an economic history of thought gives a broad basis for the comparison of different theories. This is important as it enables one to make a reasonable decision. The study of economic thought is a vital tool for obtaining knowledge. However, the history of economic thought is believed to be revelatory and discriminatory. For instance, writers and authors are selective as they discuss only areas they are interested in, and give facts on an individual basis. Nonetheless, various scholars argue that the history of economic thought should embrace the modern economic assumptions.

How slavery has been discussed and analyzed by Adam Smith

Adam Smith, an economist, claims that slavery hurts the economy, as well as the moral grounds of a human being (n.p). He further suggests that it makes some people rich out of oppressing the poor. Poor people work for the rich, and as a result, the rich increase their wealth. Smith’s thought on slavery makes him categorize society into commercial and capitalist societies. He argues that the capitalists use the industrial community to enrich themselves. However, Smith does not support slavery on both moral and humanitarian grounds. He adds that it is immoral to use human labor to improve one’s standard of living at the expense of another.

On areas of religion, Smith points out that some Christians are slaveholders (n.p). He argues that if the colonies are Christians, then the subjects are slaveholders because Christians allow slavery. However, on economic grounds, Smith seems to be against slavery because slaves work and are given food as wages. Smith further asserts that slaves are believed to be people who cannot acquire properties (n.p). Nevertheless, he suggests that among the strategies towards ending slavery is the spreading the gospel of good humanity to slave owners (n.p). If the message reaches them, they would be persuaded to go for free labor which is more profitable than slave labor.

According to Smith, slavery cannot be easily abolished as it exists all over the world (n.p). He adds that with the significant poverty levels across the world, it is impossible to abolish slavery entirely. In almost all societies around the globe, it leads to the tyrannical disposition of human-kind. He claims that he cannot anticipate that slavery will end because some people still praise some dominations and authority. Consequently, he advises that slavery can only be abolished if people agree to compromise and treat each other as equals. According to Smith, slavery cannot be abolished in countries ruled by a monarch government because it would mean that the authority has no power to rule. As a result, an enormous rebellion from the subjects would ensue. According to Smith, people praise their fellow human beings, and therefore, those who are praised demand for others to be below them. He claims that human history and nature have a lot to do with the slavery vice. indeed, the eradication of slavery as Smith wishes cannot be possible since most societies have embraced the vice as part of the culture

Smith avers that even in his home country, Scotland, slavery is a major problem, especially in the mining industry. Smith suggests that the mine workers are set free and then re-hired for at least a wage labor (Smith (n.p)). To eradicate slavery, Smith argues that there is need to bargain with fellow human beings as we are all equal. Conversely, the lack of political freedom facilitates the prevalence of slavery. He further adds that political freedom makes laws that give it the vice more authority, which confines slaves to total domination. For instance, in ancient Rome where people enjoyed political freedom, the power that was vested in the master of the slave was limitless. According to Smith, a slave will never be free to enjoy greater freedom (n.p).

It is important to note that Smith is optimistic when he says that during the ninetieth century, monarchical governments treated slaves better than other ones because the interest of the king was to amass power and weaken the nobles. Thus the king’s position was to strengthen by the presence of slavery. Under a monarchy government, the powers of masters over slaves were limited as the king or queen influenced how the masters treated their slaves through passing impartial judgments on issues regarding slaves. The unbiased reviews were in favor of the slaves and not their masters. In line with Smith’s argument, slavery is more acceptable in developing countries than rich ones. Prosperous nations can afford to buy slaves, unlike developing or third-world countries. As a result, the slavemasters in developed countries live in constant fear of slaves, and therefore, they tend to treat them with ruthlessness. In contrast, in developing nations, one may not differentiate the slaves from their masters as they have the same demeanor. In wealthy nations, the elites are separated from the conditions of their slaves. According to Smith, however, in relatively rich countries, there is an immense use of slaves. For instance, in Rome and Greece, non-agricultural activities were achieved by use of slave labor. Under these circumstances, the rich population supported the use of slaves to enrich themselves using free labor (Nash andSoderlundn.p).

How slavery has been discussed and analyzed by economists Adam Ferguson

Furguson is a well-known economist and anti-slavery campaigner. He is portrayed as a supporter and campaigner of conflict, dissenting troubles, and political parties. As an economist and philosopher, Ferguson criticizes the slavery system in production.  He adds that slavery should be abolished entirely (Adam 338). In 1972, Ferguson was an activist in Britain and was pushing for the eradication of slave trade. His philosopher elite never went unnoticed; he appeared in almost all political spheres. His thoughts on slavery were expounded in the new publication of his lectures. However, the national debates and arguments over the system of slave trade show that he has detached himself from real-world activities. Ferguson discusses slavery as obligations and rights that result from a contract. However, he fails to give any theory on the slave trade. Throughout his article, he remains reserved from the moral point of view as he appears to support the idea of slavery in Rome as a test for its applicability (Edmund 124). Nevertheless, Ferguson’s boldness towards the vague concept of slavery was understood historically. He also contested the notion that people are bought and sold as slaves. As opposed to Adam Smith, he deems slavery in different dimensions to that of Adam Smith. Ferguson ignores that fact that political activities can influence slavery to flourish. He claims that slavery is purely based on the personhood and therefore, it is possible to abolish at all cost.

How slavery has been discussed and analyzed by economists John Mill

John Mill is portrayed as a central figure of economic thought. He was a member of the parliament of Westminster and an influential political philosopher. In the political arena, Mills examined essential economic practices and activities in which production, exchange of goods, and services were based (David 453). Also, he shows an unwillingness to support slavery agreements in all aspects of the economy. He advises that people should never volunteer to become slaves because volunteering would mean that principles of freedom are compromised (David 453). Persons who engage in enslaving others encroach on the rights of the third parties. He terms this as injurious to themselves as well as the society as a whole. In line with this, Mill claims that it is uncivilized for one to sell himself or herself as a slave either by obligation, consent or law. When one sells him or herself, Mill argues that this is a way of renouncing people’s liberty (David 460). In additions, as Adam argues that slavery should be voluntarily, Mills was not in favor of slavery at all. He further states that people should not volunteer to become one’s slaves.

In a different argument, Mill argues that Christianity can be used to stop slavery.  However, Mill makes contradicting arguments on slavery when he talked about ‘the Negro question’ which might be termed as a rebuttal letter for slavery. This shows his inconsistency that would make a reader doubt his position for the fight against slavery. In fact, several pieces have revealed that his position is to stop self-enslavement and not slavery contracts (David 461). Mill does not agree that a society can tolerate any votive preparations whereby people are sold or sell themselves into slavery. According to him, selling yourselves into slavery of others is a way of limiting yourselves freedom. This is contrariwise to Adam and Ferguson’s position which is entirely against the slavery of any kind. In my opinion, Mill evaluates slavery regarding the limiting of freedom. Ultimately, I support Mill’s argument because I believe they are sound enough considering the view that rational decision may be extended    to validate an extensive authoritarianism.



Works Cited

Adam, Ferguson, Principles or Moral and Political Science; being Chiefly a Retrospect of Lectures Delivered in the College of Edinburgh, Vol. 1, 1792. pp.338-339.

David, Archard. The Philosophy Quarterly. Journal article. Vol. 40. No. 161. October 1950, pp. 453-465.

Davis, D. B.  The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. 1966.

Edmund, Burke. The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, eds. London: Cambridge University Press.1968 pp. 124.

Nash, G. B., and Soderlund, J.R. Freedom by Degrees: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and its Aftermath, New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1991.

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. R.H. Campbell and A.S. Skinner, Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1976.