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Southern Agrarian Labor Contracts as Impediments to Cotton Mechanization

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  • Whatley, Warren C.

Abstract

The traditional view of cotton mechanization, first advanced by rural sociologists in the 1920s, is that southern agrarian institutions impeded progress. Recently their view has been questioned. New studies attribute much of the southern lag to factors like small-scale production, cheap labor, the cotton crop, and environment. I contribute to the debate by emphasizing how the structure of the southern economy encouraged landlords to use annual labor contracts that hindered attempts to mechanize. I present evidence that supports the traditional view and suggest how the incentive structure of annual labor contracts delayed invention of the mechanical cotton picker.

Suggested Citation

  • Whatley, Warren C., 1987. "Southern Agrarian Labor Contracts as Impediments to Cotton Mechanization," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 47(1), pages 45-70, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:47:y:1987:i:01:p:45-70_04
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    1. The Baptist Question Redux: Emancipation & Cotton Productivity
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2015-11-05 19:46:39

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    Cited by:

    1. David A. Hennessy, 2006. "On Monoculture and the Structure of Crop Rotations," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 88(4), pages 900-914.
    2. Paul A. David, "undated". "Zvi Griliches and the Economics of Technology Diffusion: Adoption of Innovations, Investment Lags, and Productivity Growth," Discussion Papers 09-016, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, revised Mar 2010.
    3. Ager, Philipp & Brückner, Markus & Herz, Benedikt, 2014. "Effects of Agricultural Productivity Shocks on Female Labor Supply: Evidence from the Boll Weevil Plague in the US South," MPRA Paper 59410, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. Lafortune, Jeanne & Tessada, José & González-Velosa, Carolina, 2015. "More hands, more power? Estimating the impact of immigration on output and technology choices using early 20th century US agriculture," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(2), pages 339-358.
    5. Joshua L. Rosenbloom & William A. Sundstrom, 2009. "Labor-Market Regimes in U.S. Economic History," NBER Working Papers 15055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Richard Hornbeck & Suresh Naidu, 2014. "When the Levee Breaks: Black Migration and Economic Development in the American South," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(3), pages 963-990, March.
    7. Jung, Yeonha, 2020. "The long reach of cotton in the US South: Tenant farming, mechanization, and low-skill manufacturing," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 143(C).
    8. Virts, Nancy, 2006. "Change in the plantation system: American South, 1910-1945," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 153-176, January.
    9. Bailey, Martha J. & Duquette, Nicolas J., 2014. "How Johnson Fought the War on Poverty: The Economics and Politics of Funding at the Office of Economic Opportunity," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 74(2), pages 351-388, June.
    10. Jung, Yeonha, 2018. "The Legacy of King Cotton: Agricultural Patterns and the Quality of Structural Change," SocArXiv trjfz, Center for Open Science.
    11. Andrew S. London & Cheryl Elman, 2017. "Race, Remarital Status, and Infertility in 1910: More Evidence of Multiple Causes," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 54(5), pages 1949-1972, October.

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