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The Persistence of de Facto Power: Elites and Economic Development in the US South, 1840-1960

  • Philipp Ager

    ()

    (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)

Wealthy elites may end up retarding economic development for their own interests. This paper examines how the historical planter elite of the Southern US affected economic development at the county level between 1840 and 1960. To capture the planter elite’s potential to exercise de facto power, I construct a new dataset on the personal wealth of the richest Southern planters before the American Civil War. I find that counties with a relatively wealthier planter elite before the Civil War performed significantly worse in the post-war decades and even after World War II. I argue that this is the likely consequence of the planter elite’s lack of support for mass schooling. My results suggest that when during Reconstruction the US government abolished slavery and enfranchised the freedmen, the planter elite used their de facto power to maintain their influence over the political system and preserve a plantation economy based on low-skilled labor. In fact, I find that the planter elite was better able to sustain land prices and the production of plantation crops during Reconstruction in counties where they had more de facto power.

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File URL: http://ehes.org/EHES_No38.pdf
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Paper provided by European Historical Economics Society (EHES) in its series Working Papers with number 0038.

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Length: 55 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hes:wpaper:0038
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.ehes.org
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  1. Galor, Oded & Zeira, Joseph, 1993. "Income Distribution and Macroeconomics," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 60(1), pages 35-52, January.
  2. 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 963-90, March.
  3. Lange, Fabian & Olmstead, Alan L. & Rhode, Paul W., 2009. "The Impact of the Boll Weevil, 1892–1932," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(03), pages 685-718, September.
  4. Bertocchi, Graziella & Dimico, Arcangelo, 2010. "Slavery, Education, and Inequality," IZA Discussion Papers 5329, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  7. Cecilia Garcia-Penalosa & Eve Caroli & Philippe Aghion, 1999. "Inequality and Economic Growth: The Perspective of the New Growth Theories," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(4), pages 1615-1660, December.
  8. Mitchener, Kris James & McLean, Ian W, 2003. " The Productivity of US States since 1880," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 8(1), pages 73-114, March.
  9. Dube, Andrajit & Lester, T. William & Reich, Michael, 2010. "Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders: Estimates Using Contiguous Counties," Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Working Paper Series qt86w5m90m, Institute of Industrial Relations, UC Berkeley.
  10. Sascha O. Becker & Erik Hornung & Ludger Woessmann, 2011. "Education and Catch-Up in the Industrial Revolution," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 92-126, July.
  11. Irwin James R., 1994. "Explaining the Decline in Southern per Capita Output after Emancipation," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 336-356, July.
  12. John Luke Gallup & Jeffrey D. Sachs & Andrew D. Mellinger, 1998. "Geography and Economic Development," NBER Working Papers 6849, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Rodney Ramcharan, 2010. "Inequality and Redistribution: Evidence from U.S. Counties and States, 1890-1930," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(4), pages 729-744, November.
  14. Alston, Lee J. & Ferrie, Joseph P., 1985. "Labor Costs, Paternalism, and Loyalty in Southern Agriculture: A Constraint on the Growth of the Welfare State," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 45(01), pages 95-117, March.
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