RefAnnBib: Capitalism Starts With the Plantation

Part 1: Bibliographic Entry

Desmond, Matthew. “American Capitalism Is Brutal. You Can Trace That to the Plantation.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019,

Part 2: Background and Credibility of Author & Source 

Matthew Desmond: American sociologist and Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. Received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 2019, subsequently joining Harvard Society of Fellows as a “Junior Fellow”. Has written four books, including one that has won a Pulitzer Prize. Desmond’s primary research and teaching involves topics regarding poverty, race and ethnicity, urban sociology, public policy, and ethnography. He has also previously written essays on educational inequality, political ideology, race and social theory, and the inner-city housing market and its insecurity. 

Published in the New York Times Magazine as a story part of the 1619 Project, an ongoing initiative beginning in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the start of American slavery. The Project essentially examine the legacy of slavery in America; this source is thus deemed as popular and credible in regards to how the consequences of slavery and contributions of black Americans are the center of America’s historical narrative. Although this source may face a bit of criticism for obscuring some details and disapprovals from those who seek to defend capitalism, I believe his pathos, credentials, and Pulitzer Prize serves to be credible.

Reason for choosing this source: Title was extremely interesting and eye opening. Concerned today’s modern day capitalism in relation to slavery and worker’s division, a direct part of my research question. Will hold weight with my audience with a different and influential perspective.

Part 3: Précis 

Desmond starts his piece by describing recent examples of business owners utilizing the excuse that capitalism is the reason for their ability to raise prices on certain essentials such as medicine and/or housing incomes. This introduction was the preface to claim that slavery was the “birthplace of America’s low-road approach to capitalism.” Through research specifically on the exigence of the 19th century, Desmond argues that the roots of slavery was foundational to the growth and development of America’s economy, as it “helped turn a poor fledgling nation into a financial colossus.” Compiling studies and quotes from magazines, historians, anecdotes of those former enslaved, past data, images, and other studies and books, Demond highlights the way the nation was willing to grow in industrialization and economy, inevitably allowing slavery to survive and exist for centuries, with its effects still looming in presence today. He mentions the way the enslaved African Americans worked in overtiring conditions and were subject to punishment, since cotton was among the world’s most widely traded commodities in the 19th century with people striving to obtain it. Inventions such as the cotton gin only increased the desire for more, and the Industrial Revolution created factories that fed into a new economy, where slavery was still the “beating heart of this new system” as slaver labor camps continued to spread. Desmond then goes on to describe how today’s modern-day corporations and business practices/organization methods are strikingly similar to the ones implemented during previous plantation owners, where there is a workplace hierarchy and a method to calculate depreciation and market value. He continues to express the connections to how slavery has been the defining characteristic of American capitalism, which led to the effect of multiple inequalities, disparities, recessions, and a growing wealth gap between the black and white. 

Part 4: Reflection

Although Desmond’s details and selected opinions have faced criticism, I do agree with his overall claim that slave plantations had led to the creation of capitalism and today’s amplified version of the growing gap between the rich and poor. Desmond mentions that the data analysis used by the plantation owners allowed them to anticipate rebellion, which helped ensure that violence only flowed in one direction. This essentially allowed a minority of whites to control a much larger group of enslaved black people, therefore the Capitalists, and plantation owners, made the conscious decision to racialize slavery, and only exclusive to black people. By letting these plantations to grow and only having the Industrial Revolution to increasingly divide the working class and spread further slave labor camps, it ultimately gave white workers and owners social and economic advantages relative to non-white workers. Desmond also pays credence to how the North was able to also gain control, power, and wealth from the growing capitalist economy even though many today still have a misconception of them being opposed to institutionalized slavery. I thought it was interesting that Desmond was straightforward, and did not sugarcoat the way capitalism had only fostered slavery in the most brutal but economically beneficial ways. 

Part 5: Quotables

“As the large slave-labor camps grew increasingly efficient, enslaved black people became America’s first modern workers.”

“Given the choice between modernity and barbarism, prosperity and poverty, lawfulness and cruelty, democracy and totalitarianism, America chose all of the above.”

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3 thoughts on “RefAnnBib: Capitalism Starts With the Plantation

  1. I believe that explaining some of the historical background to the issues related to capitalism is important, which this article seems to be doing! In other words, I think that it is great that you are already identifying some root of the problem, which is important to include for it will only bring your argument further. I think that a next step would be to try to connect this history to present day and present day issues with capitalism as well as ideas for moving forward and suggestions of and for the future.

  2. Hey Nazia! I think this is a great source to use in your research paper, especially with it being from the New York Times which I think is a very credible source. Some ideas that came to my mind is what makes slavery in America different from that in other countries and/or cultures? I do remember learning that slavery had existed in all kinds of ways at different times in the world (i.e.: The Medieval Times) so I think it would be efficient to include what ways makes the enslavement of African Americans distinct from everything else. Other contributing factors to the wealth gap in America are also due to race. The idea that the “white man” is higher than people of color has set the stones of power in place for a very long time, despite its qualities of racial discrimination, and it could be possible that this idea is a present component in the increasing wealth gap in America.

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