Abstract

Abstract:

This article argues that necroeconomics, the theory and practice of letting populations die in the interest of preserving a free market, first appeared in writings on the early Iberian slave trade. Gil Eanes de Zurara's Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea (1453) describes the first large-scale sale of enslaved Africans in 1444, representing it as a breach in natural law. The Portuguese historian justifies this breach through the presence of the sovereign and by suggesting racial distinctions between the Africans and the Portuguese. By the end of the sixteenth century, these justifications were further developed in Scholastic economic theory. Luis de Molina's De Iustitia et Iure (1593) argues that even if they lacked documentation, traders could assume that any African sold had been legitimately enslaved, effectively freeing the market from natural law and sovereign control. While necroeconomics has been linked to eighteenth-century liberalism, these examples indicate that its theory and practice were already present in the context of what Karl Marx termed "originary accumulation." Recognizing this early necroeconomics deepens understandings of what has been called "racial capitalism," here defined as the inextricability of capitalist accumulation from the racialized distribution of life and death.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-3786
Print ISSN
1531-0485
Pages
pp. 75-100
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-10
Open Access
No
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