Industrial Slavery

Kind of a touchy subject (not that it should be) so I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if this ends up in GD but I have more of a Q than an OP at this point:

Basically I was wondering if any history buffs or sociological types happened to know how the stats compare in terms of African-American productivity pre and post slavery times. In terms of worker output (granted that technology has improved, but thats part and parcel with the whole thing, so don’t factor it out) how much more revenue/resources are generated per african-american today than back in slave days?

Urk So many variables!

Well, you have to remember that (unless my logical skills are seriously weak) there are more blacks today than there were in the days of yore.

Other than that, I have no input.

Ditto, sb. WAY too many factors to account for.

Just a few:

Relocation of african american’s from the rural south to industrialized cities.

Greater work incentive for african american’s in the modern era.

Technological advancement (on both ends…picking cotton is easier now but so is producing factory goods).


I don’t remember the book, but there IS something out there that address your exact question. Well, it might not actually compare the productivit of blacks today, but it did address the question of whether southern slavery in the US was actually economincally sound. Do some searching, maybe on Amazon. I know it’s out there but don’t have the slightest memory of the title or author.

Are you asking about productivity of farm work vs. industrial work, or of pre-slave farm work vs. post-slave farm work?

There was a southerner who made the argument that slavery wasn’t economically sound before the Civil War…I forget who it was, though. He argued that slavery:

  1. Encouraged monoculture…plantation farming of cotton and tobacco, which wore out the soil, and also left the south overly dependent on the market success of a single crop.

  2. Provided a source of free labor that took jobs away from poor whites who otherwise could take the jobs that slaves were doing

  3. As slaves were being trained to do skilled work, like carpentry and blacksmithing, threatened to impoversh skilled white “middle class” workers.

Can’t remember the man’s name, though.

Captain, you are probably referring to Hinton R. Helper, who wrote The Impending Crisis, and argued roughly along the lines you describe, in 1857.

Regarding the OP, I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Any comparison between productivity in slavery times and today strikes me as meaningless. Historians have attempted to assess the productivity of slave vs. free labor under comparable conditions. The best book I can think of on the subject would be Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery by Fogel and Engerman. I don’t have the book in front of me, but IIRC the authors concluded that yes, slavery reduced productivity, but that it was still a good deal for slaveholders. For the obvious reason that, if you don’t need to pay your labor force, it doesn’t need to be very productive. If output per hour fell, slaveholders could just use the whip to coerce more hours.

I don’t think you’ll find any stats on the issue from pre-slavery times - but if the Roman Empire is anything to go by, slave productivity was extremely low. However, for the Romans profit was never seen as an honourable pursuit, instead area landholding being the important means of measuring wealth and prestige.

I don’t know about statistics, but I direct your attention to The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass written by himself:

Granted, he was not an unbiased party, but his descriptions of how things were really done in the slave-holding South don’t make you long for the slave system, even on economic grounds alone. Slavery comes off as an abominably wasteful and inefficient system. The worker’s aren’t motivated at all, and the overseers have to be supported by enforcers. It’s hopeless for any skilled or complex tasks – there are too many ways for the system to break down. It only makes sense for large bodies of people that are doing simple tasks that they can’t deliberately delay too badly, and where your production costs can bear the extra time and the overhead of overseers. Plantation life fits the bill. Manufacturing doesn’t.

Yep. That’s it. I also like Helper’s description of California in his book on the Gold Rush:

Here’s a copy of Helper’s book, from the University of North Carolina. (A warning: Helper uses terms that were acceptable at the time but now are considered offensive)

I guess the reason I asked was my pondering of the motivations behind the powers that be to abolish slavery. I don’t think it was political, or social, but rather a very formulated decision.

interestingly enough after finishing 12 years of formal education I don’t think I’ve had even 1 hours worth of class on slavery, but thhats canada for you.