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Profitability of Slavery

Decent Essays
Economic History Topic Report
ECO 3183

Topic title: Profitability of Slavery

Briefly state the two opposing views.
A. Abolitionists condemned slavery based on moral, social, and economic reasons. Many believed that slaves were mistreated and were often subjected to corporal punishment. Others argued that the forced labor of blacks was inefficient and unproductive for various racial and economic reasons. Ulrich Phillip’s studies from the antebellum slavery in the south claimed that although plantation slavery produced great wealth, even without the civil war, slavery was economically on a dead end due to the rising cost of factor prices (slaves) increasing faster than the product prices (cotton).

B. Economists approached
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If the price of cotton increases, then the demand for labor also increases which ultimately drives up slave prices. If cotton prices stay the same but there is an increase in output per worker, then the price of slaves will increase. If the cost to maintain a slave decreases, then the difference will eventually offset once slave prices increases to its equilibrium. Conrad and Meyer found Phillip’s table involving the relationship between the prices of prime field hands compared to the prices of cotton accurate; however, they explained that Phillips

Page 2 was missing key data to support his claims of slavery being unprofitable. Phillips completely left out the overall productivity of a slave, which was the ultimate difference in the revision of 1958. A major factor Conrad and Meyer took into consideration concerning production was the reproduction rates for females. Their researched showed that “prime hand wenches produced anywhere between 5-10 kids, and was one-half to two-thirds productive as prime field hands” (C.M. 106-107). However, an average 3 months time is lost due to pregnancy. After calculating return rates they found that women bearing 10 children would have an 8.1 percent rate of return and a women with 5 children will have a 7.1 percent rate of return. Furthermore, the rate of return per slave averaged out to 10 percent (Weiher).

In what ways do the differences in
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