Slavery Bad for Business

Sorry Slavery is Just Too Expensive

At about the half-way point in my reading of the book “From Columbus to Castro, The History of the Caribbean” by Eric Williams, I couldn’t help but be driven to express what seems to be a profound realization about how labor and business-costs are related. AND, slavery didn’t eventually end due to uprisings and revolts; but rather the eventual influx of voluntary labor and machinery 😦
My initial conclusion is that for the island planters of sugar, cotton, tobacco and other agriculture… slavery was too costly of a business model. See this high-level comparison with the associated comments and You decide:
 Work Hours:

It’s obvious machines can work more hours than humans, but advanced technology machinery can be (a) costly at start-up; (b) require high human skill-sets to operate; (c) and may not be conceived yet. For the argument of comparing the most inexpensive work-hour per laborer, slavery seems to have been the best available option for Caribbean planters at the time.


Quality may not have become of major business component for the United States until after World War II when the Japanese started directly relating quality to product-value (ie Honda/Datsun/Toyota etc.). However, it is hard to believe the Caribbean planters thought a “less than quality product” would bring top price in any case. But what the planters probably didn’t want to consider is that quality was directly related to the type of labor they were using. Instead, the excuse for poor quality product by slave labor was attributed to the AfRaKan workers being less skilled and capable…except AfRaKans built the great pyramids of AfRaKa where they were the inventors of science and technology. The excuse slaves were not capable of producing a quality product doesn’t make sense. Rather, I’d argue the conditioning of the practice of slavery is the true root-cause for poor quality products.


What is preferred for an effective and efficient business-cost model is low maintenance labor. Slavery provided for high overhead expenses such as shelter, food-water, clothing, medical, control mechanisms, and everything to keep a human alive (and focused to do the work). In opposition, voluntary labor is responsible for its own basic needs.


From the capture and delivery of the first slaves in the Americas, volatile situations ensued. The direct costs probably can’t be properly assessed for the years of hostile conditions, (struggles, beatings, killings, run-aways, etc.). But if I had to guess, these direct and indirect cost would definitely exceed the desired profit margins.


Even in today’s corporate world, a dollar is assessed for every employee that is recruited, on-boarded, and trained to work on the job. Some would suggest the break-even point at around 2-years of un-interrupted time on the job to recoup new employee overhead. From what I’m reading in the book, the conditions of slavery in the Caribbean would kill a slave within 3-years. This is the reason all indigenous peoples of the islands became extinct. Therefore, the actual trading of slaves seemed to be more profitable than agriculture because slaves were constantly needed to replace dead workers. Again, the planters were not exercising the best business model here; but rather the slavers stayed profitable replacing dead workers on a regular basis.

 This analysis does NOT singularly relate to slavery in the Caribbean during the 17th century. From personal experience, the reading encouraged me to think more about how corporate-America operates. And, I’ve come to a quick conclusion that: “Poor working conditions may provide the employer with more working hours per employee, but (1) the quality will be low; (2) maintenance will be high from sick employees with high risk for being injured; (3) volatility will mostly likely occur on the job site from employees who are over-worked and unhappy; (4) and eventually, the best employees will leave and cost the company high turn-over expenses.

…Just my analysis and thoughts 🙂