Civilizing the Economy A New Economics of Provision

Glasgow: A Merchant’s City, The Labor of Slaves

Posted Jun 21, 2011 by Marvin Brown in Uncategorized, 1 Comment

The last city on my recent trip to Ireland and Scotland was Glasgow; a city whose early wealth depended on the labor of African slaves in the British colonies. If there were one city in Europe that should be obligated to pay reparations for African slavery, it would be Glasgow.

The center of Glasgow, now called “Merchant City,” contains many of the former mansions of the tobacco lords, including the Cunninghame mansion, which is now the National Art Gallery.  Walking around the city’s center, one  crosses such streets as “Virginia Street” and “Jamaica Street”—clear references to the slave colonies that produced the tobacco that make the city rich.

In conversations with taxi drivers and museum guides, I learned that the story of tobacco is the story of Glasgow.  Everyone seemed to know that Glasgow was developed on slave labor. No mystery here.

The mystery surrounds Adam Smith.  Why did he make up the story of the invisible hand in his The Wealth of Nations, instead of telling the true story that the wealth he enjoyed was created by the slave-based tobacco trade?  I think the reason was his belief in the ownership of property as the foundation of civilization.  For him, slaves were property, but not owners of property.  Mystery solved.

The real mystery is why we continue to live in the legacy of this economics of property.  We know that the owners of property, not the members of political communities, are determining the fate of Europe right now, as well as the fate of the planet.

One Response to “Glasgow: A Merchant’s City, The Labor of Slaves”

  1. Carlos Pagliari says:

    November 30, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Agree! Good thoughts. Unfortunatly Mankind is still being "too much Human"...Slavery only among our specie...and we think our Specie is "better" than others thru the Planet we share! CP

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Marvin T. Brown, Ph.D teaches business and organizational ethics at the University of San Francisco and Saybrook University in San Francisco.

This book is the culmination of 30 years of teaching and writing on business and society from a communicative perspective. Visit for more information.

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