Haitian Zombies and Slave Economics

We are reblogging this fascinating post by Glen Whitman on “Haitian Zombies and Slave Economics” because we respectfully disagree with Professor Whitman’s application of the Coase Theorem to the institution of slavery. (First, though, we must confess that we are fascinated by Coase’s theorem — see our paper “Clones and the Coase Theorem” where we apply Coase’s ideas to the film Blade Runner — spoiler alert: we argue that the source of the replicants’ violence in Blade Runner is Dr. Tyrell’s monopoly over the production of replicants.) But in the case of colonial-era slavery, we can’t say whether or not slavery is efficient since slaves do not have the option of purchasing their manumission on a voluntary basis. In other words, we tend to equate the Coase Theorem with “Coasian bargaining” to an efficient result, but by definition no direct bargaining is going on between slaves and slave-owners …

Economics of the Undead

This article on Haitian zombies, which includes a history of attempts to explain their existence in scientific terms, reminds us that zombie folklore is historically inseparable from slavery.  Haitian zombies were created not by a virus, but by a sorcerer (bokor) whose black magic created undead laborers who would work indefinitely for free.  This suggests that zombie labor might be analyzed in the same manner as slave labor.

In a justly famous (or infamous) book titled Time on the Cross, economists Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman made the controversial claim that slavery in the American South was actually an efficient economic institution.  It’s worth pointing out that “efficient” isn’t necessarily the same as “moral”; their argument was purely economic, not ethical.  Nevertheless, the book unsurprisingly generated a great deal of criticism, from economists and others.

I can’t begin to summarize the whole debate initiated by Time…

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About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
This entry was posted in Economics, Law, Uncategorized, Zombies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Haitian Zombies and Slave Economics

  1. Pingback: Is the Coase theorem unfalsifiable? | prior probability

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