Whitewashes history
in Reclaiming economics for future generations
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Chapter 4 turns to the economic history of our world to better understand how today’s structural inequality came to be. The chapter argues that the transatlantic slave trade has played an important role in UK and US economic development, and the vast amount of land globally that was appropriated by European colonial powers has led to a distribution of resources and power that profoundly shape our global economies today. Gender and reproductive control was central to the economic organisation of colonies, creating hierarchies that are reproduced in modern structural gender inequalities. Neoclassical economics highlight the prosperity gained from greater cross-border economic integration since the mid-eighteenth century. Though by focusing on voluntary exchange for mutual benefit, this underplays the historical role of real or threatened violence that powerful countries used to force others to become more integrated in global economies. When decolonisation movements won independence from their colonisers in the twentieth century, former colonisers did all they could to protect the economic resources they gained from their colonies and this made it much harder for newly independent countries to develop thriving economies that could compete in the global economy they were often forced to integrate into. By ignoring how oppression and violence influenced historical economic development particularly for people of colour and women, academic economics maintains a fiction that allows it to be ignored in the present. The chapter argues that if these histories are seriously considered then we are forced to reconsider how we think about our modern economies.

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