Thursday, May 3, 2018

Stop Telling Kanye to Read Ed Baptist

Since Kanye West decided that the World had spent enough time paying attention to people that are not him, I have seen a number of suggestions for Kanye’s education. More than a few have been along these lines

If he were to read Baptist, Kanye, like many of Baptist’s other readers, could learn all sorts of things that are not true. He could learn that

1.       Before Ed Baptist, economists and historians did not believe that slave owners were profit seeking capitalists. Many historians and almost all economic historians viewed slavery as a profit seeking enterprise.
2.       Slave produced cotton accounted for more than 60% of GDP. Baptist made up numbers and summed them in an approach to national income accounting that defies all logic.
3.       The pushing system was a term that enslaved people used. Ed Baptist made up the term (see section 4.1; on second thought, just read the whole thing).
4.       Economic historians don’t think slave owners used violence to coerce enslaved people. This is simply not true.
5.       Baptist shows that innovations in violence led to innovations in picking that drove increases in productivity during the antebellum period.  He never provides any evidence to support one of the central claims of his book. See the link for the previous point and this by Pseudoerasmus, and this by Olmstead and Rhode. I should also mention Trevor Burnard as one of the first historians to call out Baptist.

If we want Kanye to understand the brutality of slavery, how about Charles Ball, or Solomon Northup, or Harriet Jacobs? If you think he needs to read some professor, how about Daina Ramey Berry? Maybe if Kanye gets through these readings we can come up with some more, but let’s not contribute to the miseducation of Kanye West by telling him to read Ed Baptist’s terrible book.

P.S. Stop telling anyone to read Ed Baptist!

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