Wed | Apr 8, 2020

Lipton Matthews | The idiocy of politicians and intellectuals

Published:Tuesday | January 14, 2020 | 12:19 AMLipton Matthews/Guest Columnist

In enumerating their case for reparation, advocates fail to propound unsentimental arguments. To justify their demands, they posit that Britain’s prosperity stems from the success of colonies in the West Indies. Slavery enriched some entrepreneurs, but it does not adequately explain the rise of Britain.

The global eminence of Britain is the result of a concatenation of factors ranging from geography to institutions. Therefore, it would suit activists to cease contending that slavery is responsible for the wealth of Britain or Western Europe. Their argument is soothing but will be eviscerated when confronted with scrutiny.

Despite the assertions of activists, the gains of the slave trade were small. In a seminal study, Engerman (1972) avers that the transatlantic trade had an unexceptional annual average rate of return, with profits being equivalent to less than one per cent of British national income in the 18th century.

Moreover, O’Brien (1982) further demonstrates that the contributions of slavery and the transatlantic trade only played a moderate role in European capital formation; although the findings of Solow (1985) indicate larger estimates and explicate the argument that slavery increased the pool of investable funds. Solow’s position is that slavery played a pivotal role in accelerating the Industrial Revolution, not that it was the cause.

Likewise, Inikori (2002) also offers larger calculations, but his estimates are insufficient to bolster the claim that the transatlantic trade was a decisive factor in stimulating European growth. Further, Richardson (2003) notes that the trade contributed only minimally to financing British industrial development.

Slavery actually functioned as a rent-seeking institution enriching a few planters, while dispersing costs over a large segment of the British population (Coelho,1973). Another leading scholar has promulgated that slavery constituted a drain on British resources when accounting for the liabilities of imperial defence and tariffs (Thomas, 1974).

In addition, a significant point usually omitted by activists is that after abolition many planters were bankrupt. As a result, they had to use their compensatory package to repay creditors. Dynastic wealth tends to dissipate; hence few affluent people in Britain can state that their affluence stems from slavery.

If one is honest, then he must conclude that the consequences of slavery for Jamaicans are mostly positive. Jamaica’s life expectancy, per capita income and literacy rate are higher than people living in Nigeria and Ghana.


Notwithstanding the rantings of pundits, slavery and colonialism are not the reasons for Jamaica’s inability to prosper.

Multilateral organisations such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank have produced numerous reports outlining impediments to progress. Several of these hindrances are related to internal problems such as corruption and policy inertia.

During their sojourn in Jamaica, the British built institutions and endowed the justice system with the common law. Common law countries, for example, have higher rates of economic growth.

Intellectuals interested in examining why Jamaica lags should study the economic costs of policy inertia. They may even produce a report indicating GDP per capita income, had Jamaica been a less corrupt country. But instead, they opt to promote silly projects, like teaching Patois in schools and reparation.

Political and intellectual elites cannot recover from the fact that their ancestors were once slaves. Therefore, to compensate for insecurities, they have decided to replace even positive aspects of British culture with Jamaican practices and it does not matter that many of these practices, are maladaptive.

So, teaching Patois, for instance, becomes an exercise in challenging the hegemony of English, according to these delusional people. Jamaicans must ignore politicians and intellectuals, because they only offer platitudes.

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