In an Afterword added in 1989, the authors assess their findings in the light of recent scholarship and debate.
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WW Norton & Co
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US Kirkus Review »
This remarkable book is written by two econometricians who apply statistical analysis to the history of American slavery. Their findings oppose the idea that Southern plantations were inefficient - the field hands worked hard, their black drivers were sophisticated, trusted foremen, the economics of scale and "intensive utilization of labor and capital" built flourishing "large, scientifically managed business enterprises," not feudal backwaters. The problem of soil exhaustion was dealt with; the planters were not "cavalier fops" but entrepreneurs who achieved an "extraordinarily high labor-force participation rate" which comprised the old, the very young, the insane and the crippled. A system of rewards and punishments was accompanied by a versatility of skills underestimated in the cottonpicker stereotype of slaves. Conventional wisdom about the breakup of the slave family (planters preferred stable nuclei), about sexual promiscuity (slave morals were "prudish" if anything), and the Old South's slave-breeding (not systematic) is challenged, with the admission that "ambiguities" remain. One seeming contradiction is the authors' emphasis on the economic efficiency of the system, and their simultaneous exertion to show that the slaves on the whole consumed 90% of what they produced. It is the generalities that will excite debate - the claim that in a worldwide 19th-century context the South was far from industrially backward, and the more familiar claim that Southern slaves were widely better off than Northern free labor. The second volume on "evidence and methods" is a necessary companion piece. Specialists possess previous familiarity with Fogel's and Engerman's theses; now general readers can pitch into the debate that is sure to follow. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Robert William Fogel
Robert William Fogel, winner of the 1993 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, is director of the Center for Population Economics at the University of Chicago. Stanley L. Engerman is an economist and economic historian at the University of Rochester. His controversial writings on the economics of slavery with economist Robert Fogel were some of the first modern treatments of the subject.