Ever felt like you were being worked by a slave-driver, or earning “slave wages”? Your intuition might not have been that far off-base. A new study, reported by Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge, suggests that modern business management practices can be traced back to the methods developed by slave owners.
Some of the tactics in question, like incentivizing workers and depreciating their work over a period of time, are widely known to have been used by slave owners.
The study’s author, Caitlin C. Rosenthal, wanted to be clear that she was not defending slavery in any way. Rather, she intended for the study to be a critique of capitalism, and says it should make us think about the responsibilities we hold to each other as people.
Rosenthal found that since slave owners were able to keep such detailed records of their workers, she was able to mine their data enough to fuel the study. She didn’t intend to come upon these conclusions, but she’s glad that she did. Rosenthal warns that these slave owner tactics essentially turned slaves into “human capital,” and that the continuation of these techniques would do the same to the modern worker.
Next time you’re feeling overworked, underpaid, and that you’d like to actually see your family for a change, show your boss the study. You just might see some results.
The following documents, via Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge, “detail business transactions for slaves and related supplies”: