The Economist has apologised and withdrawn a review that criticised a historian for painting an unbalanced picture of the slave trade in the American South.
There has been widespread criticism of this, and rightly so. Slavery was an evil system, in which the great majority of victims were blacks, and the great majority of whites involved in slavery were willing participants and beneficiaries of that evil.We regret having published this and apologise for having done so. We have therefore withdrawn the review, but in the interests of transparency the text remains available only on this special page and appears below.
Another unexamined factor may also have contributed to rises in productivity. Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century.Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their 'hands' ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment. Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.
Controversy over the review raged on Twitter and in the comment section of the original article on The Economist's website yesterday.
Using the #EconomistBookReviews hashtag, many people applied the review's argument – that something generally thought to be evil isn't necessarily that bad – to other books.
Baptist, an associate professor at Cornell University, said this morning that he hopes the magazine finds a way to preserve the original article's comments, which are currently still online.
This comment was typical of many. Others threatened to cancel their Economist subscriptions.
However, some have praised the magazine for not simply deleting the article and instead republishing a version along with its apology.