Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

Back to main blog

RSS thingy

Jane's Blogosphere: blogtrack for Natalie Solent.


( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

The Old Comrades:

November 2001 December 2001 January 2002 February 2002 March 2002 April 2002 May 2002 June 2002 July 2002 August 2002 September 2002 October 2002 November 2002 December 2002 January 2003 February 2003 March 2003 April 2003 May 2003 June 2003 July 2003 August 2003 September 2003 October 2003 November 2003 December 2003 January 2004 February 2004 March 2004 April 2004 May 2004 June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 August 2007 October 2007 February 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 March 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 October 2009 January 2010 March 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 April 2011 June 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 November 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 April 2013 May 2013 June 2013 July 2013 August 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Friday, February 24, 2006
"Time on the Cross." As he promised, Jim Miller emailed me the summary of conclusions from a book called Time on the Cross by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman
The following are some of the principal corrections of the traditional characterization of the slave economy:

1. Slavery was not a system irrationally kept in existence by plantation owners who failed to perceive or were indifferent to their best economic interests. The purchase of a slave was generally a highly profitable investment which yielded rates of return that compared favorably with the most outstanding investment opportunities in manufacturing.
2. The slave system was not economically moribund on the eve of the Civil War. There is no evidence that economic forces alone would have soon brought slavery to an end without the necessity of a war or some other form of political intervention. Quite the contrary; as the Civil War approached, slavery as an economic system was never stronger and the trend was toward even further entrenchment.
3. Slaveowners were not becoming pessimistic about the future of their system during the decade that preceded the Civil War. The rise of the secessionist movement coincided with a wave of optimism. On the eve of the Civil War, slaveholders anticipated an era of unprecedented prosperity.
4. Slave agriculture was not inefficient compared with free agriculture. Economies of large-scale operation, effective management, and intensive utilization of labor and capital made southern slave agriculture 35 percent more efficient than the northern system of family farming.
5. The typical slave field hand was not lazy, inept, and unproductive. On average he was harder-working and more efficient than his white counterpart.
6. The course of slavery in the cities does not prove that slavery was incompatible with an industrial system or that slaves were unable to cope with an industrial regimen. Slaves employed in industry compared favorably with free workers in diligence and efficiency. Far from declining, the demand for slaves was actually increasing more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.
7. The belief that slave-breeding, sexual exploitation, and promiscuity destroyed the black family is a myth. The family was the basic unit of social organization under slavery. It was to the economic interest of planters to encourage the stability of slave families and most of them did so. Most slave sales were either of whole families or of individuals who were at an age when it would have been normal for them to have left the family.
8. The material (not psychological) conditions of the lives of slaves compared favorably with those of free industrial workers. This is not to say that they were good by modern standards. It merely emphasizes the hard lot of all workers, free or slave, during the first half of the nineteenth century,
9. Slaves were exploited in the sense that part of the income which they produced was expropriated by their owners. However, the rate of expropriation was much lower than has generally been presumed. Over the course of his lifetime, the typical slave field hand received about 90 percent of the income he produced.
10. Far from stagnating, the economy of the antebellum South grew quite rapidly. Between 1840 and 1860, per capita income increased more rapidly in the South than in the rest of the nation. By 1860 the South attained a level of per capita income which was high by the standards of the time. Indeed, a country as advanced as Italy did not achieve the same level of per capita income until the eve of World War II.
Having sent me that, Jim Miller added a note of his own:
My own caveats: I am not an economist, much less a cliometrician, as Fogel and Engerman like to call themselves, so I can't easily judge the quality of their work. I do recall that "Time on the Cross" received enormous praise and criticism when it was first published. I haven't followed the controversy since the late 1970s, so I don't know the status of the debate.

That said, everything I know about the beginning of our Civil War is compatible with their conclusions. It is a fact that southerners, by and large, were quite positive about their prospects. In fact, one could argue that it was their surge in prosperity that made them risk seccession. And it may have been the growing belief that slavery would not vanish for economic reason that made opponents of slavery less willing to tolerate the "peculiar institution".

If Fogel and Engerman are correct, then economic explanations of the demise of slavery in the United States are nonsense -- though they may have become true eventually. Instead, what ended slavery was a change in beliefs, especially the changes in the beliefs of some denominations, such as the Quakers.

Like you, I don't want to believe their results. But I would add something you might like: Apparently the southern plantations got results from their slaves in part by using market incentives, principally cash bonuses and allotments of land. The cash bonuses were important enough so that [a] few slaves bought their own freedom. And a few men were even able to free their families with their earnings.

I found this review of Time on the Cross by Thomas Weiss informative. Some of the book's conclusions have been knocked awry, others remain standing.

All this remains quite a challenge to the views I expressed in a piece for Samizdata a while ago: Life is still tough for the owners of lazy slaves. In order to get to a certain conclusion about AIDS research I quoted Seneca and various Victorians to the effect that slave work was ill-done and inefficient. When visiting the antebellum South the British writer William Makepeace Thackeray said, "In a house where four servants would do with us ... there must be a dozen blacks here, and the work is not well done." When searching for quotes for that piece I found others I could have used as well. Such quotes are also evidence.

Well, I guess it's another book to add to my reading list.