© 2017

The Poverty of Slavery

How Unfree Labor Pollutes the Economy


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-ix
  2. Robert E. Wright
    Pages 1-17
  3. Robert E. Wright
    Pages 19-38
  4. Robert E. Wright
    Pages 39-71
  5. Robert E. Wright
    Pages 73-115
  6. Robert E. Wright
    Pages 117-141
  7. Robert E. Wright
    Pages 143-197
  8. Robert E. Wright
    Pages 199-232
  9. Robert E. Wright
    Pages 233-247
  10. Back Matter
    Pages 249-302

About this book


This ground-breaking book adds an economic angle to a traditionally moral argument, demonstrating that slavery has never promoted economic growth or development, neither today nor in the past. While unfree labor may be lucrative for slaveholders, its negative effects on a country’s economy, much like pollution, drag down all members of society. Tracing the history of slavery around the world, from prehistory through the US Antebellum South to the present day, Wright illustrates how slaveholders burden communities and governments with the task of maintaining the system while preventing productive individuals from participating in the economy.

Historians, economists, policymakers, and anti-slavery activists need no longer apologize for opposing the dubious benefits of unfree labor. Wright provides a valuable resource for exposing the hidden price tag of slaving to help them pitch antislavery policies as matters of both human rights and economic well-being.


negative externality human trafficking forced labor sex slavery sexual exploitation labor chattel coerced labor emancipation market failure abolition

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Augustana UniversitySioux FallsUSA

About the authors

Robert E. Wright is the Nef Family Chair of Political Economy at Augustana University, USA. He has co/authored or co/edited two dozen books on US economic history and policy, including Corporation Nation, Fubarnomics, and One Nation Under Debt. He has served on the board of Historians Against Slavery, an NGO, since 2012.

Bibliographic information

Industry Sectors
Finance, Business & Banking


“Wright’s book ought to be considered as the synthesis of an underappreciated analytical tradition regarding the broader economic consequences of slavery.” (EH.Net, May, 2018)