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Biological Innovation and Productivity Growth in the Antebellum Cotton Economy

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  • Alan L. Olmstead
  • Paul W. Rhode

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Alan L. Olmstead & Paul W. Rhode, 2008. "Biological Innovation and Productivity Growth in the Antebellum Cotton Economy," NBER Working Papers 14142, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14142
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Olmstead,Alan L. & Rhode,Paul W., 2008. "Creating Abundance," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521673877, May.
    4. Wright, Gavin, 1979. "The Efficiency of Slavery: Another Interpretation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(1), pages 219-226, March.
    5. Olmstead,Alan L. & Rhode,Paul W., 2008. "Creating Abundance," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521857116, May.
    6. 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..
    7. 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 275-296, June.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. The Baptist Question Redux: Emancipation & Cotton Productivity
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2015-11-05 19:46:39

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Charles W. Calomiris & Jonathan Pritchett, 2016. "Betting on Secession: Quantifying Political Events Surrounding Slavery and the Civil War," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(1), pages 1-23, January.
    2. Gavin Wright, 2020. "Slavery and Anglo‐American capitalism revisited," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 73(2), pages 353-383, May.
    3. Olmstead, Alan L. & Rhode, Paul W., 2018. "Cotton, slavery, and the new history of capitalism," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 67(C), pages 1-17.
    4. Andrei Markevich & Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, 2018. "The Economic Effects of the Abolition of Serfdom: Evidence from the Russian Empire," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 108(4-5), pages 1074-1117, April.
    5. Howard Bodenhorn, 2011. "Manumission in nineteenth-century Virginia," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 5(2), pages 145-164, June.
    6. Wright, Brian D., 2012. "Grand missions of agricultural innovation," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(10), pages 1716-1728.
    7. Scott A. Carson, 2018. "In Support of the Turner Hypothesis for the 19th Century American West: A Biological Response to Recent Criticisms," CESifo Working Paper Series 6969, CESifo.
    8. Nuvolari, Alessandro & Russo, Emanuele, 2019. "Technical progress and structural change: a long-term view," MERIT Working Papers 2019-022, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
    9. McCloskey, Deirdre Nansen, 2009. "Britain, China, and the Irrelevance of Stage Theories," MPRA Paper 18291, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Palma, Nuno Pedro G. & Papadia, Andrea & Pereira, Thales & Weller, Leonardo, 2020. "Slavery and development in nineteenth century Brazil," CEPR Discussion Papers 15495, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    11. Robert G. Chambers & Simone Pieralli, 2020. "The Sources of Measured US Agricultural Productivity Growth: Weather, Technological Change, and Adaptation," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 102(4), pages 1198-1226, August.
    12. Ager, Philipp & Boustan, Leah & Eriksson, Katherine, 2019. "The intergenerational effects of a large wealth shock: White southerners after the Civil War," CEPR Discussion Papers 13660, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    13. Philip T. Hoffman, 2020. "The Great Divergence: Why Britain Industrialised First," Australian Economic History Review, Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 60(2), pages 126-147, July.
    14. Alan L. Olmstead & Paul W. Rhode, 2014. "Were Antebellum Cotton Plantations Factories in the Field?," NBER Chapters, in: Enterprising America: Businesses, Banks, and Credit Markets in Historical Perspective, pages 245-276, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Alan L. Olmstead, 2020. "Historical and Institutional Perspectives on American Agricultural Development," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 102(2), pages 400-418, March.
    16. Conor Lennon, 2016. "Slave Escape, Prices, and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(3), pages 669-695.
    17. Alan L. Olmstead & Paul W. Rhode, 2010. "Productivity Growth and the Regional Dynamics of Antebellum Southern Development," NBER Working Papers 16494, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J43 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Agricultural Labor Markets
    • N11 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N5 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights

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