Peculiar Institutions: A New Approach to Estimating the Economic Incidence of Slavery

Institute for New Economic Thinking
Principal Investigator: Suresh Naidu
Slavery was central to US economic history and political development. It is often argued that coercive institutions which limit freedom are inimical to economic efficiency. Yet research documenting the efficiency of slavery in agriculture was a crowning achievement for neoclassical economic history. The objective of our research is to construct new measures of slavery as a state-sanctioned property rights institution, and to document how slavery impacted economic development in US history. The research will exploit historical data on the Underground Railroad and the operations of local courts to document the security of slave owners’ property rights at the local level. The research will then estimate the effects pro-or-anti slavery institutions had on agricultural and manufacturing productivity, not just in the South, but also in the North.