Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

Adam Smith’s approach to Colonial Slavery: the relation between “Love of Domination” and Mercantilist Policies

Londe Silva Ana Paula, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Adam Smith was known, in his time and later on, as a harsh critic of Slavery. His most known argument against slavery concerns the economic inconveniences of employing slave labor. In the “Wealth of Nations” he states that the experience throughout the ages and nations has proved that slave labor is the most expensive one. Smith’s economic critique of slavery has echoed both in British abolitionist movement and in 19th century debates on colonial slavery. Nevertheless, Smith recognizes that sugar-cane and tobacco were cultivated mainly by slave labor in American and Caribbean colonies. The “love of domination” would explain the preference for slave work despite its economic disadvantages. Smith argues that people will generally prefer to exercise authority over slaves than to bargain with free workers. A question arises then: Smith explains the persistence of colonial slavery over time only by this propensity to dominate others? The paper will deal with this question by organizing and contextualizing his main arguments on colonial slavery. It will be noted that Smith’s criticism on mercantilist policy also underlies his account of colonial slavery.


Keywords: Adam Smith, Slavery, Colonies, Mercantilist Policies, Love to Domineer

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