Wealth created by British slave traders

It is debatable how much the wealth created contributed to the British economy.

The slave trade offered an opportunity to get rich quick and many traders grew wealthy from its profits. But it was also a risky business with many investors making losses.


Some merchants used their wealth to invest in British industries, banks and in new businesses. But other merchants and plantation owners invested elsewhere.

Much of the profits of slavery were spent on individual acquisition and dissipated in conspicuous consumption, for example merchants bought landed estates or had large town houses built as status symbols.

As regards funding the industrial revolution, profits from slavery roughly equated to the amount invested in new industries. Profits from the Atlantic economy were a recognisable contribution to the total profits of British businessmen. But it cannot be said that without these particular funds, investment in the industrial revolution would not have taken place.

Was Britain economically better off as a result of the slave trade?


Those that argue 'yes' point to houses, buildings and parks financed by the slave trade, and to the building of an empire.


Those that argue 'no' argue that only a narrow group of people profited. They claim that the estimates of those who support the 'yes' argument are exaggerated. They also point to the large costs of building and running an empire, including fighting wars related to its expansion and defence. These were paid for, in part by the taxpayer.

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