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Were Free Southern Farmers "Driven to Indolence" by Slavery? A Stochastic Production Frontier Approach


  • Elizabeth B. Field-Hendre
  • Lee A. Craig


Antebellum critics of slavery argued that it was responsible for the relative inefficiency of free southern farms. We examine this issue, employing a stochastic production function, which allows us to distinguish between technological superiority and technical inefficiency, and controlling for crop mix, which we treat as endogenous. We find that although large plantations enjoyed a technological advantage, slave farms were less efficient than free northern farms but more efficient than free southern farms. In addition, free southern farms were significantly less efficient than comparable northern farms.

Suggested Citation

  • Elizabeth B. Field-Hendre & Lee A. Craig, 1996. "Were Free Southern Farmers "Driven to Indolence" by Slavery? A Stochastic Production Frontier Approach," NBER Historical Working Papers 0082, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0082
    Note: DAE

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    1. Jondrow, James & Knox Lovell, C. A. & Materov, Ivan S. & Schmidt, Peter, 1982. "On the estimation of technical inefficiency in the stochastic frontier production function model," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2-3), pages 233-238, August.
    2. Olson, Jerome A. & Schmidt, Peter & Waldman, Donald M., 1980. "A Monte Carlo study of estimators of stochastic frontier production functions," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 67-82, May.
    3. Schaefer, Donald F., 1983. "The Effect of the 1859 Crop Year Upon Relative Productivity in the Antebellum Cotton South," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(04), pages 851-865, December.
    4. David, Paul A & Temin, Peter, 1979. "Explaining the Relative Efficiency of Slave Agriculture in the Antebellum South: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(1), pages 213-218, March.
    5. Craig, Lee A., 1991. "The Value of Household Labor in Antebellum Northern Agriculture," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 51(01), pages 67-81, March.
    6. Aigner, Dennis & Lovell, C. A. Knox & Schmidt, Peter, 1977. "Formulation and estimation of stochastic frontier production function models," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 6(1), pages 21-37, July.
    7. Field, Elizabeth B, 1988. "The Relative Efficiency of Slavery Revisited: A Translog Production Function Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(3), pages 543-549, June.
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    JEL classification:

    • N51 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913


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