Review: Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery

Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman's Time on the Cross: The Economics of Negro Slavery

American South

Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman’s 1974 book Time on the Cross: The Economics of Negro Slavery is a mythbusting revisionist tour of the reality of slavery as it existed in the American South.

Everything you think you know about slavery is false. Math nerds will love this book (it comes with a separate quantitative appendix) because it relies on modern statistical methods, representative samples, and comparative analysis instead of value judgments to unravel the economics of slavery.

In ten years, I haven’t read another book about slavery that is more insightful or that has done more to alter my perception of slavery than this one.

Myth #1: Slavery was a moribund institution in 1861.

Slavery was a profitable, robust institution in 1861.

The drain of slaves from the Border States to the Old Southwest wasn’t signaling the death of slavery. Instead, this was merely a part of the long term shift in the Southern economy from tobacco to cotton (Tobacco was King in 1790, Cotton was King after 1820) and the geographic center of slavery away from Chesapeake Bay and toward the Lower Mississippi Valley.

“Freedom” wasn’t discredited in the North by the mass migration of Yankees from the inferior soils of New England to the richer soils of the Midwest. “Freedom” wasn’t discredited in Britain either by the inability of the British to compete in a free market with Midwestern agricultural produce.

The drain of slaves away from the Border States only proves that slavery had better opportunities in cotton in the Southwest.

Myth #2: In 1861, slavery had reached its geographic limits. The planters had run out of land.

Slavery was nowhere close to running out of land in 1861.

Most of the Deep South was less than a generation removed from the frontier. Texas wasn’t admitted to the Union until 1845. By the 1920s, 3x as much land in the South was planted in cotton as had been the case under the Confederacy.

If the War Between the States had not intervened, the cotton plantations would have expanded until World War I to keep up with growing world demand. The price of slaves would have increased and the planters would have become significantly wealthier than they were in 1861.

The South’s need to expand into places like Kansas was politically motivated by the balance of power within the Union, not economically motivated: the South surrendered its claim to Kansas and most of the Western territories after secession in 1861 because it never really needed those areas to expand the plantation system.

Myth #3: Slavery was hopelessly inferior to free labor.

The large cotton plantations in the Deep South were the most efficient and productive type of agricultural enterprise in America in 1861.

Slave labor on the cotton plantations was more efficient and productive than free labor on Southern farms. Free labor on Southern farms, which was often supplemented by slavery, was more efficient and productive still than free labor without slavery on Northern farms.

Slavery was more efficient and productive than free labor because slaves could be “driven” in gangs which made greater use of division of labor. Henry Ford would later use the same principle in his automobile assembly lines in the twentieth century. Compared to slavery, free labor in the form of craftsmanship is more disorganized, expensive, and smaller scale.

Myth #4: Slavery retarded the industrialization of the South.

The South was the equal of the North in railroad mileage per capita. There were more railroads in the North, but that was because the North had a greater need for railroads than the South, most of which is below the Atlantic Fall Line and could make greater use of navigable rivers for transportation.

The idea that slavery retarded the growth of railroads is absurd: there were more railroads in the South than anywhere in the world at the time but the North, there were more railroads in Cuba than Spain and the rest of “free” Latin America combined. In both the South and Cuba, slavery was a great stimulus to the expansion of railroads, which used railroads to reduce transportation costs of bringing cotton and sugar to market.

In cotton textile production in 1860, the North was “backward” relative to Britain, whose cotton textile production was more than double that of the North, which was four times greater than the South, which was greater than the per capita textile production of other countries such as India, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Germany.

In pig iron production in 1860, the North was “backward” relative to Britain, whose pig iron production was over four times greater than the North, and Belgium, whose pig iron production was almost twice that of the North, which was over six times greater than the South. The South also lagged behind France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Sweden in pig iron production.

The South lagged behind the North in railroads because we had less need for railroads, cotton textile production because the North and Britain had a comparative advantage over the South in water-power, and in pig iron production because the North, Britain, Sweden, Belgium, Germany and other countries had a more fortuitous geological advantage over the South in that regard.

In our own times, the Gulf Coast towers over the North in petroleum production and refining, but that is also due to a more fortuitous geological endowment.

Myth #5: Slaves were ruthlessly exploited. We owe them reparations.

The average return on slavery for a planter after the subtraction of costs was only 10 percent. The government in our own times takes a much greater bite out of the earnings of “free laborers.”

Myth #6: Black women were raped en masse on the plantations.

It turns out that the average rate of miscegenation which resulted in mulatto offspring on a Southern plantation was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 out of every 100 births.

How then do we explain the level of White admixture into the black population? It is because mulattoes are not only produced by black-white miscegenation. They are also produced by mulatto-black miscegenation. The rape of black women on Southern plantations was discouraged by planters because it undermined their workforce and consequently the profitability of their plantations.

The truth is that when planters “exploited women” it was usually the scores of “free” White prostitutes who worked in brothels on account of their poverty. Planters were also rich men who could afford to keep White mistresses in town. The evidence shows that planters overwhelmingly preferred to maintain illicit relationships with high and low class White women over their slaves.

The blackest areas in America are in the Deep South in the former plantation belts. The mulattoes flourished in the cities and there weren’t many cities in the Antebellum South. The White admixture into the black population is more a product of the movement of ex-slaves to the cities and particularly free black women working as prostitutes than is commonly thought.

Myth #7: The slaves were horribly mistreated.

Slaves were capital investments. The profits of the planters depended on maintaining the health of their laborers. The slave interest never tired of reminding its antagonists that under slave society labor was capital whereas in free society labor and capital are in conflict.

James Henry Hammond summed up this worldview in a pithy letter to British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson:

“Among the innovations of modern times following the decay of villeinage,” has been the creation of a new system of slavery. The primitive and patriarchial, which may also be called the sacred and natural system, in which the laborer is under the personal control of a fellow being, endowed with the sentiments and sympathies of humanity, exists among us.

It has been almost everywhere else superseded by the modern artificial money-power system, in which man – his threws and sinews, his very being, are all subjected to the dominion of Capital – a monster without a heart – cold, stern, arithmetical – sticking to the bond – taking ever “the pound of flesh” – working up human life with Engines, and retailing it out by weight and measure.

His name of old was “Mammon, the least erected spirit that fell from Heaven.” And it is to extend his Empire, that you and your deluded coadjutors dedicate your lives. You are stirring up mankind to overthrow our Heaven-ordained system of servitude, surrounded by innumerable checks, designed and planted deep in the human heart by God and nature, to substitute the absolute rule of this “Spirit Reprobate,” whose proper place was Hell.”

Few people are aware that the slave diet was nutritionally superior (the planters made sure that their labor force was superbly fed) to the modern black diet. Slaves were 3x less likely to commit suicide than Whites. They had a greater life expectancy than “free” laborers in Northern cities like Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. They lived in better housing. They had greater access to healthcare and social security on the plantations than “free” laborers did in Northern cities.

The truth is that Southern slaves had the same life expectancy as the French. They had one of the highest material standard of livings in the world at the time. Their infant mortality rate was comparable to Southern Whites. They had a significantly higher birthrate than the British and most contemporary Europeans like the Irish and Russians who lived on the precipice of famine under freedom.

Only 33 percent of the time of the slaves was spent doing anything related to cotton. Only a fraction of the time of the slaves in the cotton fields was intense gang labor. Slaves spent the majority of their time doing things like tending to livestock, building fences, improving the property, raising food crops, etc. Most of their time was spent doing the same tasks that occupied the “free” White yeomanry in the South.

In terms of their work week and working hours, “free” laborers on Northern farms that specialized in dairy production put in more hours than slaves on Southern plantations. The slaves were off Sunday and most of Saturday. Their work year wasn’t much different from the “free” work year in the North.

The real substantial difference between “free” labor and slave labor was in the organization of labor and the incentives to labor. In the South, authoritarian incentives like whipping was used to compel the slaves to labor – on the more disciplined plantations, the average annual rate of whipping was 0.7 whippings per field hand. In the North, libertarian incentives like starvation and the misery of poverty was used to compel “free” laborers to work for Northern capitalists.

In the South, the starvation weapon was never used to compel slaves to labor. Even when slaves faked illnesses, planters usually gave them the day off. It was better to lose a day of labor from a slave than to take the chance on the deterioration of the slave’s health and the total loss of the capital invested in the slave. A slave didn’t become a profitable investment for a planter until age 27 so illness in the workforce was taken very seriously.

In the North, “free” laborers were more expendable to capitalists because they could easily be replaced by new immigrants fresh off the boat from somewhere like Ireland or Italy. The slave trade was illegal in the South after 1807.

Myth #8: Slavery couldn’t thrive in the cities.

The lack of slaves in the cities was due to the inelasticity of slavery in the countryside. Slaves in the cities could be more easily replaced by “free” laborers than slaves in the countryside. Driving was used on the plantations. “Free” laborers were averse to driving and were a poor substitute.

Myth #9: “Slavebreeders” in the Upper South broke apart slave families to sell blacks into slavery for profit in the Lower South.

No historian has ever been able to find a single documented example of a “stud” plantation in Virginia.

The overwhelming majority of the slaves in the Upper South moved to the Lower South as entire plantations moved from one region to the other. This tore apart “White families” as White Southerners moved from the Atlantic South to the Gulf South.

The Legacy of Freedom

The true nature of slavery in the South explains the collapse of the Southern economy in the late nineteenth century.

In the absence of coercive methods, the planters couldn’t maintain the system of driving on the plantations, which had been the secret of slavery’s success, by paying wages to the freedmen. By introducing black freedom into the plantation system, Southern agriculture became less efficient, less productive, less profitable, and smaller scale.

The result of abolition was the collapse of property values and a downward spiral into poverty that ruined everyone from planters to the yeomanry to the former slaves. The plantations were broken into smaller parcels and rented out to legions of sharecroppers. As a result, the many advantages of the plantation system to the slaves – the healthcare, the social security, the diet, the housing, the physical security, the ability to borrow at prime rates through the planter, etc. – were lost.

By 1895, the ex-slaves in the American South were worse off in many ways after thirty years of free society than they had been under slavery. Their life expectancy, skill set, diet, housing, per capita income and other major indicators of human development significantly declined. (Robert William Fogel, Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Decline of American Slavery, p.101):

“So, although much work needs to be done on the collection and analysis of data, the preliminary findings based on three different sources of data point to the same conclusion: The shift of the majority of black agriculturalists from the large-scale farms of the antebellum era to the family-size farms of 1880 explains most of the postwar decline in the productivity of southern agriculture and thus in southern per capita income. This loss of productivity was a price that most black agriculturalists were willing to pay for the greater freedom and other benefits derived from family farming.”

Nor was this an isolated case.

The effective result of freedom was also true of post-abolition Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and many other areas of the “Golden Circle.” The flight of the blacks from the plantations, their refusal to work under drivers for wages, and the resulting disorganization and inefficiency of “free” black labor created the same kind of crushing poverty and scarcity in places where wealth and abundance had once been the rule under slavery.

Fogel and Engerman deserve more than a Nobel Prize for reminding us that freedom has a dark side.

This entry was posted in American South, Diversity, Dixie, History, Negroes, Race Realism, Race Relations, Racism, Slavery, White Supremacy, Whiteness, Yankees and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Review: Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery

  1. John says:

    It’s unspeakable.

  2. John says:

    Oh and Spielberg is a sanctimonious bastard.

  3. Vendikar says:

    Slavery made economic sense and the vast majority of N’s lived better under slavery than the majority of them do now, when adjusted for technology and general progress. In fact most of them lived better than many of them do NOW.

    I concede that.

    Slavery was bad because it was bad for US, I don’t care how it was for them. We are who matters. Not N’s, not J’s.

    Ditto with the kaffirs imported into Rhodesia by whites for labor, where Rhodesia was almost unpopulated before.

    White survival means whites and ONLY whites in a particular habitat. The J’s were and are just a catalyst speeding things up by several orders of magnitude. Otherwise the bloodlines will mingle. You might be immune to the temptation, but sooner or later your descendants won’t be.

    Pure African congoids don’t appeal to any healthy white, but the Halle Berrys and the Thandie Newtons will birth the Ava Gardners. In a few decades, welcome to New Lisbon.

  4. Landsknecht says:

    “The slave trade was illegal in the South after 1807.”
    Should probably read “The importing of new salves into the South was illegal after 1807”, as I’m sure salves already in the South could be traded freely.

    Otherwise an excellent review of a very compelling book with good hard facts.

  5. John says:

    White survival means ___terminating competing populations these days. It’s gone that far!

    Expand or become extinct. that means old school colonialism must be revived.

  6. John Bonaccorsi, Philadelphia says:

    Maybe we should pass a Constitutional amendment that says American corporations own their workers. That way, the workers will be capital, and things will be better for everybody.

  7. Mosin Nagant says:

    It was suggested in earlier OD posts that Negro slavery would have become obsolete and disappeared by the end of the nineteenth century without Federal intervention (which I disputed) but these recent posts seem to have come around to my contention that it had only just begun.

    Quoting Vendikar (see above): “Slavery was bad because it was bad for US, I don’t care how it was for them. We are who matters. Not N’s, not J’s. Ditto with the kaffirs imported into Rhodesia by whites for labor, where Rhodesia was almost unpopulated before. White survival means whites and ONLY whites in a particular habitat. The J’s were and are just a catalyst speeding things up by several orders of magnitude. Otherwise the bloodlines will mingle. You might be immune to the temptation, but sooner or later your descendants won’t be. Pure African congoids don’t appeal to any healthy white, but the Halle Berrys and the Thandie Newtons will birth the Ava Gardners. In a few decades, welcome to New Lisbon.”

    Especially good historical note, in that, about the importation of Negro agricultural labourers into once very sparsely settled Rhodesia.

  8. Mosin Nagant says:

    “White survival mean terminating competing populations these days. It’s gone that far! Expand or become extinct.”

    I can’t believe that you are serious, John.

  9. Mosin Nagant says:

    Somehow an earlier version of my previous comment (see above) got stuck in cyberspace and appeared five minutes after the second attempt.

  10. Vendikar says:

    Terminated no, relocated yes. I do not advocate or approve of genocide as such: that is precisely the reason I advocate white separatism. We must be separate, and if they want to survive as a people or set of peoples they must be separate too.

  11. Mosin Nagant says:

    @John: “Expand or become extinct” reminds me of Operation Barbarosa, going well beyond just a little more lebensraum.

  12. Mosin Nagant says:

    Vendikar has the correct view.

    I think there IS such a thing as “humanity” (not only races and ethnies are real) that deserves respect, and humane treatment, even more than horses and dogs do.

  13. John says:

    Old school colonization will come roaring back. The bets have been placed.

  14. Mosin Nagant says:

    Silly misspell: Barbarossa. I’m tired.

    Renewal of Western, white morality springing from revival of faith is the missing ingredient for success that is seldom discussed here.

  15. Mosin Nagant says:

    John, I also expect colonisation of Africa will renew, and indeed it is beginning now, though not really WHITE colonisation this time, or so far.

    What I doubted you could be serious about (in your previous comment) was that whites should be “terminating competing populations.”

  16. “…I advocate white separatism. We must be separate.” Could not agree more.Indeed the essential nature of any future Dixieland should consist of white people only:no “racism” and no “eternal others”.No matter how high they jump or how good they are at getting rich on labor of others-if they are not out genetic stock we have no place for them amongst us.In a cohesive Nation there is a job for everybody: for brilliant ones to create pinnacles of inventions and for average ones to do physical work without fear of being replaced by someone in China.A Nation is like a country of people that is in-love with itself,a country where any broken bench gets immediate repair because it is a part of Our Land.Such intensity of loving is perfectly possible and indeed makes every day into a walking in glory.

  17. Arturo says:

    This site gets better by the semester.

    Nevertheless :

    “Myth #1: Slavery was moribund institution in 1861.”

    Please don’t let typos slip in to this important work.

    Thank You.

    - Arturo

  18. Sean says:

    HW, it always amazes me to see you defending slavery. Are the results not evident enough for you?

  19. The results of the Union are obvious to me.

  20. Proud Globalist Race Traitor says:

    Miscegination is the solution, and miscegination will be what saves the current system. Most whites care more about protecting their mixed-race friends and family (especially Native Americans Mexicans and Asians), even if they have concerns about other races.

  21. JamieG says:

    @Proud Globalist Race Traitor

    Meanwhile, no one is flooding Africa with Non Africans and telling them… “Miscegination is the solution, and miscegination will be what saves the current system” …we are going to create a blended humanity in ONLY Africa.

    No one is flooding Asia with non-Asians and telling them… “Miscegination is the solution, and miscegination will be what saves the current system” …we are going to create a blended humanity in ONLY Asia.

    Only white countries are doing this, only anti-whites like you are pushing it. You want White GENOCIDE.

    Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.

  22. John Bonaccorsi, Philadelphia says:

    Miscegination is the solution, and miscegination will be what saves the current system.

    I assume you’re not speaking of the school system. (It’s “gen,” as in “genes.”)

  23. Proud Globalist Race Traitor says:

    There is actually increasing immigration between Asia and Africa. Latin America has accepted a lot of Asian immigrants. I am hoping to get Japan and Israel to be mixed after we get the white countries. They along with the white countries are most responsible for the colonialist imperialist paradigm.

  24. John Bonaccorsi, Philadelphia says:

    I am hoping to get Japan and Israel to be mixed after we get the white countries.

    That sounds as if it should be pretty easy, especially in the case of Israel. After all, what tendency have the Jews ever shown to preserve themselves as a people?

  25. Fr. John+ says:

    It would appear that the idea that slaves were to be kept illiterate and under the thumb of their Masters, was not such a bad idea after all.

    For the Chosenites are doing much the same thing, today, and no one seems to think it ‘wrong’ for them…. especially the [sic] Christian ‘Zionists.’

    http://poorrichards-blog.blogspot.com/2012/10/us-joins-israel-in-blockading-education.html

    Now, if it’s good for the Jews, shouldn’t it be even ‘gooder’ for the “Israel of God” -i.e., White European Caucasoids?

    As Luther penned, ‘This is most certainly true.’
    Go thou, and do likewise.

  26. Fr. John+ says:

    “Miscegination is the solution, and miscegination will be what saves the current system. Most whites care more about protecting their mixed-race friends and family (especially Native Americans Mexicans and Asians), even if they have concerns about other races.”
    -PGRT

    Ive read ‘Hold Back this Day,’ ‘Camp of the Saints,’ etc. I would gladly throw the first stone, and be righteous in doing so, to help you ‘miscegenate your life force’ with the ether, PigRot. But I think Stonelifter, Denise, and a few others would be ahead of me in line…. and be justified in doing so, as well. Have a nice day.

  27. Fr. John+ says:

    “I assume you’re not speaking of the school system. (It’s “gen,” as in “genes.”)”- BoC

    BoneofContention, I trust you don’t actually think PigRot can spell, let alone think coherently without his teleprompter, do you?

    Why, that would make him almost the level of a fifth grader….

  28. White & Confederate says:

    Personally I think much of the miscegenation in the South came from the Yankee invaders whether through rape or through consensual relationships.

  29. Mosin Nagant says:

    “Miscegination is the solution, and miscegination will be what saves the current system” contains unlikely, probably deliberate misspellings by “PGRT,” the unserious FOIL for racialism on this site.

  30. Vendikar says:

    There is actually increasing immigration between Asia and Africa. Latin America has accepted a lot of Asian immigrants. I am hoping to get Japan and Israel to be mixed after we get the white countries. They along with the white countries are most responsible for the colonialist imperialist paradigm.

    I’d like to see you try that. Really.

    The Japanese will run you through and dump you in the ocean if you prove to be a credible threat to the Japanese gene pool. They are playing nice now, and accepting, grudgingly, a tiny trickle of white and possibly Han Chinese or Korean intermixture, but there is no question that they intend to stay Japanese. Whites have married Japanese and had children there, but the kids know they are on the outside looking in. White-fathered bastards by American GIs have come as close to assimilating as possible, but again, they will never be truly Japanese, just like the third and fourth gen Koreans living there.

    Genetic intermixture to a greater extent is possible in Israel. If you impregnate a Jewess, the child is a Jew/ess no matter what you are. The father could be Martin Bormann and they wouldn’t flinch. After all, the Israelis kidnapped and raised Jewishly a number of German infants after WWII to beef up the gene pool. But if you threaten the basic sense of Jewishness of Israel’s population you will be removed.

    In neither case is this a bad thing. RPO correctly described Meir Kahane as ” a sagacious leader of his people”…and Oliver was as “Antisemitic” as could realistically be imagined. (I use “Antisemitic” in its accepted but incorrect sense, as Ashkenazi Jews are not Semitic, Arabs are, and the Jews hate the Arabs more than the other way around: before 1948 Arabs regarded Jews with casual dislike at most. )

    We must secure the existence of our people and a future for WHITE children. To do that there have to be white children….and that means we must have white children, emphasis on the white. It must be both unthinkable and infeasible for young White women to have the opportunity for sex with anything but White men. And it must be a lot harder for White men to go in unto non-white women, because of the aforementioned mulatta-quadrooness-octorooness-Ava Gardner effect. (Gardner was possibly an octorooness, but more likely 1/16 black. Had she given birth to Sinatra’s child it might well have been darker skinned than Sinatra, which would have been instructive to the population in a chimp-climbing-the-powerpole fashion.)

  31. Vendikar says:

    As for PigRot‘s assertion, I am amiable with more than one “Mixed Race Person”, but I would order their sterilization, exile, or yes, only as a last resort ‘ removal with prejudice’, if they were the last standing obstacle to an all-White polity, just as I would order the children of Bree Walker or anyone else with such an affliction to be sterilized.

    Non-whites are human beings, and mammals, and so on down the category of living creatures, and unnecessary cruelty or barbarity to any such is a repellent and dishonorable act. Even the dumbest Blacks and Australian abbos deserve a level of consideration above even that we accord to primates, decent canines, and dolphins. But first things first: we must …you know the other twelve words.

    Or you need to learn.

    All Whites MUST.

  32. Pingback: Theology of the Cross, or theology of the Crusade? « Thewhitechrist's Weblog

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