The AlternateHistoryHub YouTube channel runs through some interesting “what if” scenarios. A recent one – which the guy had the bad timing to release just after the national socialist LARPer in Charlottesville ran into the crowd of international socialist LARPers – discusses the scenario of what America might be like if the African slave trade never happened. It’s an interesting thought experiment, but a difficult one. The roots of the issue go back so far that even if somehow history could be altered so that the European powers never sailed down to Africa and bought African slaves for use in the New World sugar, cotton and tobacco plantations, so much time has passed that the number of alternate divergent timelines is uncountable.
But what he comes up with basically ends up with Europe being somewhat poorer, because they didn’t make as much profit from sugar and such, and the industrial revolution takes a little while longer to kick in. And the USA? Assuming it still comes about, it doesn’t have the same nasty racist history… but it also doesn’t really have any black folks, either.
It’s impossible to say that any one proposed timeline is impossible, barring the sudden use of AND THEN A MIRACLE HAPPENED, but one of his assumptions I disagree with: that the industrial revolution would be delayed. The European powers would still want to grow sugar cane and sell the sugar back home (and cotton, etc.), but without slaves they’d have to actually *pay* people. Which means the exercise would be less profitable. That much we agree on. But it seems to me… that would actually *spur* innovation. Slave-based economies tend to not be terribly innovative because they don’t really *need* to be, and because innovation can cause all kinds of social havoc. So I’d suspect that in this alternate history, if we assume the USA is still formed more or less on schedule, the Revolutionary War *might* be fought with some early steam-powered ships. Perhaps some terribly crappy locomotives are running around hauling cargo and troops. The American colonists *might* have had a substantial technological lead over the Brits for the simple reason they would have *had* to. Instead of the North being the unquestioned center of innovation compared tot he agrarian South, perhaps the South would have been industrialized early on in order to make plantations economical.
So by the time the Civil War would have broken out, the alt-USA has no need for a Civil War. The tech level in the alt-USA would be substantially higher than it was in the real-USA at the start of the war… but a few years later, with the pressures of the war, the real-USA might have done a job of catching up. But I dunno… I still think it’s quite possible that in the alternate timeline with the greater economic pressures to be an innovation nation, by the 1860’s the USA will be brightly lit with electric lights and telephone lines cross the land.
In the real-USA, the antebellum South was more-or-less broken down into a few really rich white folks, a lot of dirt-poor white folks, and a lot of dirt poorer black folks. In the alt-USA, the South would have broken down into some kinda rich white folks and a bunch of kinda poor white folks… and essentially no black folks. The poor white folks would be unlikely to be anywhere near middle class… the north, after all, didn’t have slavery in its industrial factories, but instead paid employees… and they were hardly living the high life. Still, the poor whites of alt-South would have been better off than the “poor white trash” of real-South. In the real-USA, small southern farmers were pretty well screwed; how could they compete against plantations using slave labor? In the alt-USA, that wouldn’t be an issue. Instead, they might be faced with the prospect of having to compete with plantations that are early adopters of mechanization.
Without the history of black slavery, the alt-USA wouldn’t end up with the Klan and Jim Crow laws and all that garbage. Probably wouldn’t have had laws against “race mixing” and all that. The alt-USA would have wound up almost certainly being a *really* white country; where the real-USA imported millions of black slaves, the alt-USA would have had to import a roughly equivalent number of European workers. The alt-USA would not have had the blatant racism… but maybe it would have had a more “comfortable” racism against, say, Hispanics and Asians and such. African slavery necessarily made the USA a “multi racial” society. But the alt-USA would at least in principle have had the option of being Europeans-only. *Perhaps* the alt-USA would have blocked the immigration of Chinese, Mexicans or perhaps even Italians… recall that back in the day, the likes of Italians and Irish were considered “non-white” for reasons we’d today find pretty laughable.
Or perhaps without the history of Unpleasantness, the alt-USA would turn out to be a perfectly accepting nation when it came to ethnicities, with none of that racist stuff.
Another recent video is “What if the War On Terror Never Happened?” Here I largely agree with the guy… the world would have turned out much the same, with the Middle East explodey as usual. However, one thing he missed when he assumes the US doesn’t invade Iraq and topples Saddam: the Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Yes, the WMD program that the worlds intelligence services largely though was A Thing in Iraq turned out to be a lot of misdirection by Saddam. But the experience and intelligence and industrial base was still there; all Saddam really needed to do was wait out the UN inspection regime. And as memory serves, that would have ended circa 2005. So alt-Saddam, rather than being dead, would have restarted the Iraqi nuclear program, potentially with the assistance of the Pakistani and/or North Korean programs. So then when Iraq does eventually go into civil war sometime in the two-thousand-teens, the alt-ISIS is armed with if not actual nukes, potentially with dirty bombs, chemical weapons, weaponized pathogens. Greeeeeaaaat.