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The Economic Underdevelopment of the United States South in the Post-Bellum Era

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Abstract

In 1900, per capita income in the Southern United States stood at 51 per cent of the national average. This was roughly the same relative position it had experienced in 1880. However, it was significantly below the levels achieved in 1840 and 1860 when it stood at 76 and 72 per cent, respectively, of the national average.1 In the recent literature, these data have been interpreted to mean that the causes of Southern economic backwardness can be isolated in time to the 1860 to 1880 period. On the one hand, Stanley Engerman has argued that the decline from 76 to 72 per cent between 1840 and 1860 is within the usual margin of statistical error, and there is ‘no clear evidence for any marked change in the southern income position relative to that of the North’ for this period.2 On the other hand, the fact that the relative income of the South remained constant between 1880 and 1900 indicates that the region’s economy grew as rapidly as that of the rest of the country during these years. It was only between 1860 and 1880 that a marked deterioration in the region’s relative income occurred. It is to that period, therefore, that attention has been directed.

Keywords

  • Technological Change
  • Relative Income
  • Plantation Economy
  • Productivity Advance
  • Economic Disparity

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Notes

  • Easterlin, Richard A., ‘Regional Income Trends 1840–1950’, in Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, The Reinterpretation of American Economic History (New York: Harper & Row, 1971) p. 40.

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  • Ransom, Roger, and Sutch, Richard, ‘The Impact of the Civil War and of Emancipation on Southern Agriculture’, Explorations in Economic History, Vol. 12, No. 1 (1975) p. 6.

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  • Wright, Gavin, ‘Cotton Competition and the Post-Bellum Recovery of the American South’, Journal of Economic History, Vol. XXXIV, No. 3 (September 1974) p. 634.

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  • Temin, Peter, ‘The Post-Bellum Recovery of the South and the Cost of the Civil War’, Journal of Economic History, Vol. XXXVI, No. 4, December 1976, p. 907.

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  • For a full development of this theme and its implications see Simon Kuznets, ‘Modern Economic Growth: Findings and Reflections’, in Simon Kuznets Population, Capital and Growth (New York: W. W. Norton, 1973).

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  • Parker, William N., ‘Agriculture’, in Lance E. Davis, et al. American Economic Growth: An Economist’s History of the United States (New York: Harper & Row, 1972) p. 385.

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  • Street, James H., The New Revolution in the Cotton Economy (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1957) pp. 100–3.

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  • Jones, William O., ‘Plantation’, in David Sills (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968), Vol. 12, pp. 154–5.

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  • Thompson, Edgar T., ‘The Plantation: The Physical Basis of Traditional Race Relations’, in Edgar T. Thompson (ed.), Race Relations and the Race Problem (New York: Greenwood Press, 1968) pp. 192–4.

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  • Rosenberg, Nathan, ‘The Direction of Technological Change: Inducement Mechanisms and Focusing Devices’, Economic Development and Cultural Change, Vol. 18, No. 1, Part 1 (October 1969) pp. 6–22.

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© 1981 Paul Bairoch and Maurice Lévy-Leboyer

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Mandle, J.R. (1981). The Economic Underdevelopment of the United States South in the Post-Bellum Era. In: Bairoch, P., Lévy-Leboyer, M. (eds) Disparities in Economic Development since the Industrial Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-04707-9_9

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