Biological Innovation and Productivity Growth in the Antebellum Cotton Economy

67 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2008 Last revised: 31 Jul 2012

See all articles by Alan L. Olmstead

Alan L. Olmstead

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics

Paul W. Rhode

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: June 2008

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

Olmstead, Alan L. and Rhode, Paul W., Biological Innovation and Productivity Growth in the Antebellum Cotton Economy (June 2008). NBER Working Paper No. w14142. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1152683

Alan L. Olmstead

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics ( email )

One Shields Drive
Davis, CA 95616-8578
United States

Paul W. Rhode (Contact Author)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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