When Coercive Economies Fail: The Political Economy of the Us South after the Boll Weevil

51 Pages Posted: 18 May 2020 Last revised: 20 Mar 2022

See all articles by James Feigenbaum

James Feigenbaum

Boston University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Soumyajit Mazumder

Harvard University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Department of Government

Cory B. Smith

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Date Written: May 2020

Abstract

How do coercive societies respond to negative economic shocks? We explore this question in the early 20th-Century United States South. Since before the nation's founding, cotton cultivation formed the politics and institutions in the South, including the development of slavery, the lack of democratic institutions, and intergroup relations between whites and blacks. We leverage the natural experiment generated by the boll weevil infestation from 1892-1922, which disrupted cotton production in the region. Panel difference-in-differences results provide evidence that Southern society became less violent and repressive in response to this shock with fewer lynchings and less Confederate monument construction. Cross-sectional results leveraging spatial variation in the infestation and historical cotton specialization show that affected counties had less KKK activity, higher non-white voter registration, and were less likely to experience contentious politics in the form of protests during the 1960s. To assess mechanisms, we show that the reductions in coercion were responses to African American out-migration. Even in a context of antidemocratic institutions, ordinary people can retain political power through the ability to ``vote with their feet.''

Suggested Citation

Feigenbaum, James and Mazumder, Soumyajit and Smith, Cory B., When Coercive Economies Fail: The Political Economy of the Us South after the Boll Weevil (May 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w27161, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3603791

James Feigenbaum (Contact Author)

Boston University - Department of Economics ( email )

270 Bay State Road
Boston, MA 02215
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Soumyajit Mazumder

Harvard University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Department of Government ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Cory B. Smith

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
6
Abstract Views
154
PlumX Metrics