immigrant workers farm John Moore/Getty Images

The Slavery Incentive

By restricting the workers’ outside options, employers may get them to accept terms that freer individuals would reject. That may be a reason why there is so little urgency in solving the problem of undocumented immigrants in the US, and why many countries protect citizens differently than foreigners.

CAMBRIDGE – Have you ever wondered why business schools do not teach the proper way to whip a worker to obtain maximum effort without damaging the asset? Had business schools existed before the American Civil War, one can conceive of at least a lecture, if not a full course, on the subject. Instead, business schools teach about corporate culture and values, on the assumption that maximum effort can be obtained from workers if they identify with the firm’s mission and goals.

So why have slavery and other forms of bonded labor declined so dramatically in so many places around the world, and what can be done to abolish them completely? It might be tempting to assume that the decline of slavery is the consequence of human moral progress. But in his masterful book The Other Slavery, Andrés Reséndez shows how inadequate this assumption is. The book addresses the history of slavery and other forms of bondage of indigenous peoples in the Americas, a topic that has received much less attention than African-American enslavement.

As the book shows, Indian slavery in the Americas was outlawed by Charles I of Spain in 1542 and abolished in Peninsular Spain even earlier. The legislation against Indian slavery was further strengthened during the regency of Mariana of Austria (1665-1675), the mother of Charles II.