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      Slavery and the Rise of the Nineteenth-Century American Economy

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      Journal of Economic Perspectives
      American Economic Association

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          Abstract

          The essay considers the claim that slavery played a leading role in the acceleration of US economic growth in the nineteenth century. Although popular among pro-slavery apologists, the proposition fails under rigorous historical scrutiny. The slave South discouraged immigration, underinvested in transportation infrastructure, and failed to educate the majority of its population. It is not even clear that the region produced more cotton than it would have under a counterfactual alternative settlement by free family farmers, on the free-state pattern. The grain of truth in recently popular narratives is that many northerners and business interests were complicit in the crime of slavery: routinely engaging in transactions with slaveholders, even promoting activities that facilitated slavery and the domestic slave trade. Complicity complicates simple historical moralism, but it is quite different from the notion that the prosperity of the nation as a whole derived from slavery in any fundamental way.

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          The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom: A Hypothesis

          The purpose of this paper is to present, or more correctly, to revive, a hypothesis regarding the causes of agricultural serfdom or slavery (used here interchangeably). The hypothesis was suggested by Kliuchevsky's description of the Russian experience in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but it aims at a wider applicability.
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            Masterless Men

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              ‘Prodigious Riches’: The Wealth of Jamaica Before the American Revolution

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Journal of Economic Perspectives
                Journal of Economic Perspectives
                American Economic Association
                0895-3309
                May 01 2022
                May 01 2022
                : 36
                : 2
                : 123-148
                Affiliations
                [1 ] Gavin Wright is William Robertson Coe Professor of American Economic History Emeritus, Stanford University, Stanford, California.
                Article
                10.1257/jep.36.2.123
                8fe1e0ac-2239-42ae-ace2-b5a7821dbfed
                © 2022
                History

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