Suresh Naidu on How Strong Property Rights Promoted Slavery and Discouraged Manufacturing Progress

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= Suresh Naidu - Property Rights and Growth: Lessons from Slavery

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"Strong enforcement of property rights is good for economic growth, says the conventional wisdom. The link may not be as clear cut, says Suresh Naidu. He and co-investigator Jeremiah Dittmar are digging through court records and newspaper ads on runaway slaves to come up with a measure of property rights enforcement. The hypothesis is that weak enforcement of property rights in people – slavery that is – discouraged investment in slaves and encouraged investment in manufacturing and infrastructure instead. A new angle on the link between property rights and economic growth – this is new economic thinking." (


Marvin Brown:

"Yes, slaves were property, and the slave states had a greater interest in the protection of property than the non-slave stakes. The narrative of the economics of property is much larger than slavery. In the legacy of Adam Smith's The Wea...lth of Nations, labor, land, and capital are properties. This meant the privatization of the commons, the taking of land from the native Americans, as well as the enslavement of Africans. In Anglo-American history, I think one can do worst than beginning with the philosopher John Locke, who based human freedom on owning one's self, and he wrote this while investing in the slave trade, so in a sense, human freedom is defined as not being a slave.

Still, I think property rights are important in a civic economy. The issue is whether property owners or civic members administer them. Property rights, in other words, should be embedded in a system of justice rather than our system of justice being grounded in property rights. We need to turn things right side up, because from Smith to the present, they have been up side down." (February 2012)