“didn’t want to be perceived as saying something positive about slavery”

The evolution of modern management is usually associated with good old-fashioned intelligence and ingenuity—”a glorious parade of inventions that goes from textile looms to the computer,” Rosenthal says. But in reality, it’s much messier than that. Capitalism is not just about the free market; it was also built on the backs of slaves who were literally the opposite of free.

“It’s a much bigger, more powerful question to ask, If today we are using management techniques that were also used on slave plantations,” she says, “how much more careful do we need to be? How much more do we need to think about our responsibility to people?”

According to Rosenthal, the history of detailed record-keeping on plantations goes back to at least the 1750s in Jamaica and Barbados. When wealthy slave owners in the West Indies started leaving others in charge of their plantations, she found, they asked for regular reports about how their businesses were faring. Some historians see this rise in absentee ownership as a sign of decline, but it is also among the first instances of the separation of ownership and management, Rosenthal says—a landmark in the history of capitalism.

Read More | “The Messy Link Between Slave Owners And Modern Management” | Katie Johnston | Forbes