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Biological Innovation and Productivity Growth in the Antebellum Cotton Economy

  • OLMSTEAD, ALAN L.
  • RHODE, PAUL W.

The Cliometrics literature on slave efficiency has generally focused on static questions. We take a decidedly more dynamic approach. Drawing on the records of 142 plantations with 509 crops years, we show that the average daily cotton picking rate increased about four-fold between 1801 and 1862. We argue that the development and diffusion of new cotton varieties were the primary sources of the increased efficiency. These finding have broad implications for understanding the South's preeminence in the world cotton market, the pace of westward expansion, and the importance of indigenous technological innovation.

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Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal The Journal of Economic History.

Volume (Year): 68 (2008)
Issue (Month): 04 (December)
Pages: 1123-1171

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Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:68:y:2008:i:04:p:1123-1171_00
Contact details of provider: Postal: Cambridge University Press, UPH, Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge CB2 8BS UK
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  1. Wright, Gavin, 1979. "The Efficiency of Slavery: Another Interpretation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(1), pages 219-26, March.
  2. Alan L. Olmstead & Paul W. Rhode, 2002. "The Red Queen and the Hard Reds: Productivity Growth in American Wheat, 1800-1940," NBER Working Papers 8863, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Olmstead,Alan L. & Rhode,Paul W., 2008. "Creating Abundance," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521857116.
  4. Fogel, Robert W & Engerman, Stanley L, 1977. "Explaining the Relative Efficiency of Slave Agriculture in the Antebellum South," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 67(3), pages 275-96, June.
  5. Passell, Peter & Wright, Gavin, 1972. "The Effects of Pre-Civil War Territorial Expansion on the Price of Slaves," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 80(6), pages 1188-1202, Nov.-Dec..
  6. Metzer, Jacob, 1975. "Rational management, modern business practices, and economies of scale in the ante-bellum southern plantations," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 12(2), pages 123-150, April.
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