I am always in awe of the Enlightened Economist – the breadth of her reading and the depth of her response to these detailed, complex books about economics, summed up in pithy insightful comments.
I’ve just read her comments on a book that – I think – is just about to be published – Caitlin Rosenthal’s Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management and found them fascinating.
Rosenthal looks at the business of running plantations with slave labour and finds that, well before factories were of any comparable size absent owners, resident managers, banks and markets were developing systems of management to deal with these large international operations.
Of course at the base of the pyramid you have the horror of slavery where human capital is just that, an asset to the business with a cash value. It’s chilling, but it’s what businesses, bureaucracies, governments do all the time. As we globalise, and resist it, as we wait for the rising tide of AI to wash over us, Rosenthal’s warning, quoted in the review seems very timely:
Rosenthal (formerly a management consultant) ends by pointing out that labor conditions for many people in the world still leave much to be desired: “Confronting plantation account books can remind us how easy it is to overlook the conditions of production from the comfort of a counting house or safety of a computer screen. Reckoning with the ways planters accounted for slavery should encourage us to rethink the kinds of data we record and how we use it. Quantitative records can help us to see farther, but only if we remember what the numbers make visible and what they erase.”
— Read on www.enlightenmenteconomics.com/blog/index.php/2018/08/what-numbers-make-visible-what-they-erase/