Book Review: The Half Has Never Been Told

[Originally published in November 2015]

“If we can face it, God can fix it.”

~ Bishop Alfred Owens

By Catherine Austin Fitts

In The Half Has Never Been Told, historian Edward Baptist attempts to unpack the nuts and bolts economics of American slavery and the economic trends that lead to and resulted from abolition.

Baptist argues that slavery was essential for building a Southern cotton machine that pooled enormous capital through the US textile industry and was critical to the success of America’s industrial economy. He also argues that slave labor was economically very productive. Using cotton pricing and production data and analysis of management practices, Baptist argues that picking quotas enforced with whippings and the threat of force systematically applied resulted in astonishing growth rates in picking productivity:

“A study of planter account books that record daily picking totals for individual enslaved people on labor camps across the South found a growth in daily picking totals of 2.1 percent per year,” Baptist writes. “The increase was even higher if one looks at the growth in the newer southwestern areas in 1860, where the efficiency of picking grew by 2.6 percent per year from 1811 to 1860, for a total productivity increase of 361 percent.”

Baptist contends that slave labor was significantly more productive than free labor:

“Many enslaved cotton pickers in the late 1850’s had peaked at well over 200 pounds per day…In the 1930s, after a half-century of massive scientific experimentation, all to make the cotton boll more pick-able, the great-grandchildren of the enslaved often picked only 100 to 120 pounds per day.”

At one point, Baptist describes the creation of large corporations used to build out cotton plantations in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana and the orders given to move thousands of slaves out from the Southeastern coastal areas to provide labor. It was stipulated that 70% were to be young men between the ages of 18-36. Right after reading this description, I was researching the European refugee situation and discovered that the statistics provided by the EU disclosed that 70% of the refugees coming to Europe were young men between the ages of 18-36. Apparently, some things do not change.

Baptist covers the financial fraud common with financing the slave trade. There was no system through which the financial system could perfect their collateral. When slave owners got into trouble, they would default on their debts while selling the slaves into new territories and keeping all of the sales proceeds. The City of London was badly burned by Southern banks financing the slave trade. One wonders whether England would have abolished the slave trade if a working collateral system had been in place.

Baptist also describes the efforts to create retail investments to finance the cotton commodities’ operations. In essence, retail investors hungry for income were eager to enjoy the income generated from the whipping machine — although the reality on the ground was not fully disclosed. It is a reminder of the speed at which private investors snapped up stock in private prison companies.

My favorite passage was a quote from Frederick Olmstead describing the diverse economies built by German immigrants as opposed to the centralized economies built by slaves. The German immigrants built much wealthier, more diverse and resilient economies. The problem was that it was not a centralized economy – a few people could not own and control it all. Again, some things do not change.

Throughout my life, I have dealt with a certain kind of person in America’s leadership. Essentially, they are slavers. They believe in the systematic application of violence to get a greater “harvest” each year. In fact, what I describe as the slow burn is a new form of an invisible, “high tech” whipping machine. If you want to understand this mentality, read The Half Has Never Been Told. It does a good job of describing the dark side of our culture – the part that believes in building personal wealth through force: whether mind control, assassination, genocide, depopulation, slavery or war.

America is a country of contradictions. On one hand, we believed in personal freedom and the values of the Scottish Enlightenment. On the other hand, our leadership has often found the practice of slavery in its many forms to be economically compelling. While technology made it attractive for Northern Industrialists to outwit Southern plantation owners by abolishing slavery and shifting to more subtle methods, the increased ability to now use digital technology to perfect human collateral systems should give one very deep pause.

Related Reading:

Some important questions and corrections to Baptist’s estimates of total slavery economy.