Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Business and Slavery

The Financial Times reports that Rothschild, the merchant bank, and Freshfields, the City law firm, are the first UK businesses to say they “greatly regret” their links with slavery.

In the United States, JPMorgan and Aetna have already apologized for slavery. Several states have passed laws that require companies to disclose any links they had with slavery.

With all this apologizing going on, you might get the impression that human slavery and business were really the same thing. Perhaps that is precisely the motive of those who demand such apologies. If their goal is to undermine the moral legitmacy of business, what better way than to connect business with such a reprehensible institution?

Connecting slavery and business may be effective politics, but it is awful history. The truth is that the campaign to end human slavery was, in the words of Thomas Sowell, "spearheaded by people who would today be called "the religious right" and [the anti-slavery] organization was created by conservative businessmen. Moreover, what destroyed slavery in the non-Western world was Western imperialism."

Sowell explains why those who go around demanding apologies for slavery do not acknowledge the real history of the fight to end the institution: "nothing could be more jolting and discordant with the vision of today's intellectuals than the fact that it was businessmen, devout religious leaders and Western imperialists who together destroyed slavery around the world."

The world we live in was built with so many immoral acts that blaming other people is easy. What is hard is giving the credit for good deeds to people you don't like. Slavery was a business, but business was not slavery.

No comments: