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Sunday, November 23, 2014


This Week    
                  Capitalism Unchained
This is not a photograph of a cotton planter and his slaves. 
It's from 1908, almost a half-century after the Emancipation Proclamation. Many things had changed in that time, of course. But it looks like a picture of slavery because many of the features of the plantation - total inequality across a racial divide, deep poverty, and very hard work under very close watch - outlasted slavery itself, under the name of new American capitalism.

This is only to say that slavery has a way of slipping out of the neat time-and-place that we sometimes put it in. Slave wealth built railroads we're still traveling and Northern cities we're still inhabiting. It began America's transformation into the financial superpower that would dominate the 20th century. It enriched many of Boston's first families, and it funded Harvard and Yale.  

Today there are tens of millions of men, women, and children working 'unfree' around the world. In many corners of our retail world, we rely on labor paid next to nothing in Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Mexico, too, in an age of free trade. Do we need to take a second look at the freedom implied by the global free market? And how can we do better?

Our guests, Sven Beckert of Harvard and Craig Wilder of MIT, look at capitalism, not as a system, but as a story. They notice how so much has changed over the centuries: our labels, our laws, our technologies. But somewhere in the massive complexity of high 21st-century capitalism there are unhappy 16th-century habits and relationships, too. What's to do about the bad old ways? 
Listen to the show today at 2pm ET on WBUR, or anytime on our website.

from the archives

We've got more research this week available on the show page. There are two short recordings from the Library of Congress's "Voices from the Days of Slavery" - the type of sound we'd love to do more with. (There are incredible found-sound podcasts out there; try the Kitchen Sisters and Joe Richman's Radio Diaries, which takes the archival stuff into the present day, both on the Radiotopia podcast network.) 

And then, thanks to our terrific intern Rebecca Panovka, we've surfaced digital copies of some of the notes from the dark days of Harvard's slave past. Two incidents, ten years apart, led the administration under President Holyoke to ban slaves from appearing on campus or interacting with students - though it seems the students were the problem. 

As we prepare to launch a blog and get ready another year's worth of live shows and podcasts, we appreciate all your help in comments in pointing us to new material. Send us interesting places, and we'll try to return the favor.

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