TIME ON THE CROSS: The Economics of American Negro Slavery Vol. 1; Evidence and Methods -- A Supplement Vol. 2 by Robert William & Stanley L. Engerman Fogel
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TIME ON THE CROSS: The Economics of American Negro Slavery Vol. 1; Evidence and Methods -- A Supplement Vol. 2

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This remarkable book is written by two econometricians who apply statistical analysis to the history of American slavery. Their findings oppose the idea that Southern plantations were inefficient -- the field hands worked hard, their black drivers were sophisticated, trusted foremen, the economics of scale and ""intensive utilization of labor and capital"" built flourishing ""large, scientifically managed business enterprises,"" not feudal backwaters. The problem of soil exhaustion was dealt with; the planters were not ""cavalier fops"" but entrepreneurs who achieved an ""extraordinarily high labor-force participation rate"" which comprised the old, the very young, the insane and the crippled. A system of rewards and punishments was accompanied by a versatility of skills underestimated in the cottonpicker stereotype of slaves. Conventional wisdom about the breakup of the slave family (planters preferred stable nuclei), about sexual promiscuity (slave morals were ""prudish"" if anything), and the Old South's slave-breeding (not systematic) is challenged, with the admission that ""ambiguities"" remain. One seeming contradiction is the authors' emphasis on the economic efficiency of the system, and their simultaneous exertion to show that the slaves on the whole consumed 90% of what they produced. It is the generalities that will excite debate -- the claim that in a worldwide 19th-century context the South was far from industrially backward, and the more familiar claim that Southern slaves were widely better off than Northern free labor. The second volume on ""evidence and methods"" is a necessary companion piece. Specialists possess previous familiarity with Fogel's and Engerman's theses; now general readers can pitch into the debate that is sure to follow.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1974
Publisher: Little, Brown