San José State University
Department of Economics
& Tornado Alley
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:
- Slavery was generally an unprofitable investment and
depended upon raising and selling slaves to be profitable.
- Slavery was only profitable on new, highly fertile land.
- Slavery as an economic institution was economically moribund.
- Agricultural production based upon slave labor was economically
- slavery caused the economy of the South to stagnate, or at least
retarded its economic growth, during the period before the Civil War.
- Slavery provided extremely harsh material conditions for the typical slave.
- Slavery was not an economically irrational system. The price of slaves
was justified by the profits to be earned with slave labor.
- Slavery was not economically moribund on the eve of the Civil War
and there was no evidence that it would have ended without political
- Plantation agriculture based upon slave labor was not economically
inefficient. It may have been significantly more efficient than family
- The typical slave field-hand was not unproductive. On average the
typical slave field-hand may have been more productive than a free,
- Slavery was not incompatible with industrial production.
- The slave family was the basic unit of social organization and
slave owners encouraged the stability of slave families. Most slave
sales were of whole families or of individuals who were ready to leave
- The material standard of living of slaves in the South compared
favorably with that of free workers in industry.
- Over the course of a field-hand slave's lifetime he received about
90 percent of the value of his production.
- The economy of the antebellum South was not stagnating. In the
period between 1840 and 1860 per capita income increased faster in the
South than in the rest of the country.
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
The results of this analysis is summarized in the table below:
|The Relative Efficiency of Agriculture by Region and Labor System, 1860
|Region||Free Labor||Slave Labor||Both|
|Old South|| ||1.19|| |
|New South|| ||1.53|| |