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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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  • Philipp Ager, 2013. "The Persistence of de Facto Power: Elites and Economic Development in the US South, 1840-1960," Working Papers 0038, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
  • Handle: RePEc:hes:wpaper:0038

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. The Persistence of de Facto Power: Elites and Economic Development in the US South, 1840-1960
      by Nicholas Gruen in Club Troppo on 2013-05-06 18:16:20


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    Cited by:

    1. Hauk, Esther & Ortega, Javier, 2015. "Schooling, nation building and industrialization: a Gellnerian approach," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 61026, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. repec:oup:jeurec:v:15:y:2017:i:1:p:1-53. is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Trevon D. Logan, 2018. "Do Black Politicians Matter?," NBER Working Papers 24190, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Jeanet Sinding Bentzen & Nicolai Kaarsen & Asger Moll Wingender, 2017. "Irrigation and Autocracy," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 15(1), pages 1-53.

    More about this item


    Long-Run Economic Development; Wealth Inequality; Elites and Development; de Facto and de Jure Power; US South;

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