This article, using a novel dataset, demonstrates that slavery is empirically bad for business. Building upon the work of Robert Smith, the authors analysis examines the relationship between the prevalence of slavery in a country (in terms of the proportion of the population enslaved) and several economic measures (the United Nations Human Development Index, growth domestic product in terms of purchasing power parity, access to financial services, and the Gini coefficient). In each instance, controlling for alternative explanations, greater levels of slavery are associated with a decline in economic growth and human development. The findings imply that beyond the morality of the issue, slavery is objectively harmful for total economic output and social development. This article begins with a discussion of how slavery is profitable for slaveholders and then proceeds with a discussion of how it undermines social and economic output at the macro level.

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2013

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2013, Brown University Press. This article first appeared in The Brown Journal of World Affairs: 19:2 (2013), 205-223.

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