The Economic Forum



Narrator's Comments
Forum Participants' Discussion
Look, there are a few seats at the front of the room! I see that a representative of the sugar merchants is going to begin the discussion...


The podium

Good afternoon, gentlemen. My name is Mr. Willowby, and I am here to speak before you on behalf of my fellow sugar importers. Did you know that the price of sugar has been reduced by one half over the course of this century?(5) This is a direct result of the institution of slavery in our great Empire. Without this institution, you would not have all of the "necessities" that you enjoy each day, including sweetened coffee, tea, chocolate, or tobacco. Slavery brings in approximately 18,000,000 Pounds per year.(6)

He's correct- slavery has changed the lives of most British citizens, influencing their daily routines. This really seems indisputable. I wonder how an abolitionist would respond...  


Bust of Adam Smith
Bust of Adam Smith

Excuse me, Mr. Willowby, but I beg to differ! For the very few of you who might not know me, I am Mr. Sutherland, and I am a bookkeeper for another local sugar importer. You are certainly correct in saying that slavery helped England become the economic power that she is, but that does not mean that slavery is necessary to maintain that power. In 1775, the total value you merchants spent on acquiring new slaves was 474,053 Pounds (7), and that was just to purchase them. That does not include the cost of sending them to Barbados. Approximately 14% of the slaves die on that voyage (8)- think about how much money you could save by abolishing the trade and allowing the Africans in the West Indies to work in a wage-labor economy. Admittedly, you would have a new cost to pay the Africans, but you would save a large sum of money at the same time. So, as you can see, you could still make a large profit without the use of slave labor. As suggested by Adam Smith, this would provide jobs for free men who need them.

Mr. Sutherland seems to have a rather controversial perspective. It would be difficult to prove that the costs realized would outweigh the new costs incurred...  
Barbadian Stamp
Barbadian Postal Stamp
That's a very nice thought, Mr. Sutherland, but you ignore the fact that all of our European neighbors also have slave economies. You're right, we could still make a large profit, in theory, without slavery, but it would be inevitable that prices would increase accordingly. Barbadian planters will not want to take a decrease in profits, so they will raise their prices, and that price will be passed on to our consumers here. Meanwhile, France and Spain would continue to use slave economies and they would threaten England's share of the world economy because they would have lower prices. Take Lord Pitt's policy, for example, which allowed the French to encourage slave uprisings in the West Indies (for more on the West Indies, see Barbados) (9). The unsettled labor situation there will also lead to higher costs for us. The French have too much control already without us losing our dominant market position. We simply cannot afford to abolish slavery. Also, if we emancipate slavery as you would have us do, our plantation farmers will want compensation for their loss of property. This burden will most likely fall on the common citizen in the form of another heavy tax.
This fear of taxation and the heavy involvement of wealthy leaders of Parliament within the system of slavery encouraged Parliamentary debate for many years. Even the young William Pitt's cabinet was divided over the issue.
  Pardon me, Mr.Willowby, but I must interject. I am Jeremy Bentham. I feel an obligation to defend my fellow abolitionists and assert my admonishment of the barbaric institution of slavery. "It is not to be disputed that sugar and coffee, and other delicacies, which are the growth of those islands, add considerably to the enjoyments of the people here in Europe; but taking all these circumstances into consideration, if they are only to be obtained by keeping three hundred thousand men in a state which they cannot be kept but by the terror of such executions: are there any considerations of luxury or enjoyment that can counterbalance such evils?" (71) I do not believe, gentlemen, that the forced servitude and abuse of this portion of our fellow mankind should be continued. "In the West India colonies, a freeman...could enjoy the benefit, such as it was, of committing at pleasure all manner of enormities, short of murder, on the bodies of all persons in a state of slavery...In some places the substitution of a small fine to all other punishment, the licence to add or substitute murder to every other injury is completed." (72) I abhor those that allow such atrocities to occur. The institution of slavery must stop.
This argument is becoming very tense. Mr. Bentham and Mr. Willowby have made very compelling arguments in favor of abolition. In truth, I favor the abolition of the trade and the emancipation of the slaves, but I fear that the average Brit cares more about economic and political stability than Africans that are 3000 miles away. This discussion is an excellent introduction to the complex political issues surrounding the controversy. Perhaps we should continue on to the room where we can see the political perspectives debated more thoroughly. Let's go!
a chained slave
A Chained Slave (73)