San José State University
Department of Economics

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Thayer Watkins
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Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman's
Time on the Cross

Fogel and Engerman feel their research provides corrections to the traditional view of the economics of slavery. This traditional view involves the following assertions about the economics of slavery:

The principal corrections that Fogel and Engnerman felt needed to be made in this traditional view are:

To be continued.


A Chronology of Emancipation, 1772-1888

  • 1772 Lord Chief Justice Mansfield Rules that Slavery Is Not Supported by English Law, Thus Laying the Legal Basis for the Freeing of England's 15,000 Slaves.


  • 1774 The English Society of Friends Votes the Expulsion of Any Member Engaged in the Slave Trade.

  • 1775 Slavery Abolished in Madeira.

  • 1776 The Societies of Friends in England and Pennsylvania Require Members to Free Their Slaves or Face Expulsion.

  • 1777 The Vermont Constitution Prohibits Slavery.

  • 1780 The Massachusetts Constitution Declares That All Men Are Free and Equal by Birth; a Judicial Decision in 1783 Interprets This Clause as Having the Force of Abolishing Slavery.


  • Pennsylvania Adopts a Policy of Gradual Emancipation, Freeing the Children of All Slaves Born after November 1, 1780, at Their Twenty-eighth Birthday.


  • 1784 Rhode Island and Connecticut Pass Gradual Emancipation Laws.

  • 1787 Formation in England of the "Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade."

  • 1794 The French National Convention Abolishes Slavery in All French Territories. This Law Is Repealed by Napoleon in 1802.


  • 1799 New York Passes a Gradual Emancipation Law.
  • 1800 U.S. Citizens Barred from Exporting Slaves.

  • 1804 Slavery Abolished in Haiti.
    New Jersey Adopts a Policy of Gradual Emancipation.

  • 1807 England and the United States Prohibit Engagement in the International Slave Trade.

  • 1813 Gradual Emancipation Adopted in Argentina

  • 1814 Gradual Emancipation begins in Colombia

  • 1820 England Begins Using Naval Power to Suppress the Slave Trade.

  • 1823 Slavery Abolished in Chile.

  • 1824 Slavery Abolished in Central America.

  • 1829 Slavery Abolished in Mexico.

  • 1831 Slavery Abolished in Bolivia.

  • 1838 Slavery Abolished in All British Colonies.

  • 1841 The Quintuple Treaty Is Signed under Which England, France, Russia, Prussia, and Austria Agree to Mutual Search of Vessels on the High Seas in Order to Suppress the Slave Trade.

  • 1842 Slavery Abolished in Uruguay.

  • 1848 Slavery Abolished in All French and Danish Colonies.

  • 1851 Slavery Abolished in Ecuador.
    Slave Trade Ended in Brazil.

  • 1854 Slavery Abolished in Peru and Venezuela.
  • 1862 Slave Trade Ended in Cuba.

  • 1863 Slavery Abolished in All Dutch Colonies.

  • 1865 Slavery Abolished in the U.S. as a Result of the Passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the End of the Civil War.

  • 1871 Gradual Emancipation Initiated in Brazil.

  • 1873 Slavery Abolished in Puerto Rico.

  • 1886 Slavery Abolished in Cuba.

  • 1888 Slavery Abolished in Brazil.


The Relative Efficiency of Slave-based and Free-labor Agriculture

Fogel and Engerman report the results of an extensive method to compare the efficiencies of free-labor farms, north and south, with slave-labor plantations in the Old South and the New South. Their conclusions are startling:
  • In 1860 southern agriculture was 35 percent more efficient, in terms of output for a equal amount of inputs, than northern agriculture.
  • Southern free-labor farms were 9 percent more productive than northern free-labor farms.
  • Slave-labor farms were 28 percent more productive than southern free-labor farms and 40 percent more productive than northern free-labor farms.
  • The slave-based agriculture of the New South was 29 percent more productive for equal inputs than slave-based agriculture in the Old South. The free-labor farms of the Old South equaled the productivity of the free-labor farms of the North. The slave-based agriculture of the Old South were 19 percent more productive than the free-labor farms of the North and the slave-based agriculture of the New South were 53 percent more productive than northern free-labor agriculture.
  • There were economies of scale in southern slave-based agriculture but these economies of scale may have been fully captured by moderate-sized, sixteen to fifty slaves, operations. Fogel and Engerman's conclusions were based upon economies of scale in production. There may also have been economies of scale in marketing.
  • Although southern lands needed more effort to maintain fertility there was not a problem of the land of the Old South being worked out and unproductive.
  • The differing size of plantations in the Old South and New South was based upon the nature of crops. Tobacco-growing in Virginia and Maryland and rice-growin in South Carolina and Georgia had differing economies of scale from cotton-growing in the New South.
  • The owners of slave-based plantations were not "idlers" but instead self-conscious entrepreneurs who gave great attention to management of their operations.
  • Plantation operators strove for a disciplined, specialized and coordinated labor force. Labor was organized into something like the assembly line operations in industry. This involved "driving" the slaves' efforts to maintain a pace of production. The "drivers" or foremen were slaves themselves.
  • Plantations had a much higher rate of labor force participation, two thirds, as compared with a free population, one third. This was achieved by finding productive pursuits for the young and the elderly and maintaining nurseries so that slave women could work.


Fogel and Engerman's analysis is based upon a particular measure of factor productivity. This measure assumes a production function of the Cobb-Douglas form; i.e.,

Q = ALαLKαKTαT

where Q is production, L is the labor input, K is the input of physical capital (machines, etc.) and T is the land input. The coefficient A represents the relative efficiency. The exponents αL, αK and αT are related to the proportion of production going for the payment of each of the factors. If the sum of the exponents is greater than one there is economies of scale. Fogel and Engerman's results are based upon the quantity:

A = Q/LαLKαKTαT

This is called the geometric index of total factor productivity. This quantity may also be computed from the formula as:

G = (Q/L)αL(Q/K)αK(Q/T)αT

where (Q/L), (Q/K) and (Q/T) are the average labor productivity, average capital productivity and average land productivity, respectively.

For computing a relative efficiency of southern agriculture compared to northern agriculture, Gs/Gn, the computation takes the form of computing the ratio of (Qs/Qn) to
(Ls/Ln)αL(Ks/Kn)αK(Ts/Tn)αT.

The results of this analysis is summarized in the table below:

The Relative Efficiency of Agriculture by Region and Labor System, 1860
RegionFree LaborSlave LaborBoth
North1.00NA1.00
South1.091.401.35
Old South 1.19 
New South 1.53 


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