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Slavery, Inequality, and Economic Development in the Americas: An Examination of the Engerman-Sokoloff Hypothesis

Nunn, Nathan (2007): Slavery, Inequality, and Economic Development in the Americas: An Examination of the Engerman-Sokoloff Hypothesis.

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Abstract

Recent research argues that among former New World colonies a nation's past dependence on slave labor was important for its subsequent economic development (Engerman and Sokoloff, 1997, 2002, 2006; Sokoloff and Engerman, 2000). These studies argue that specialization in plantation agriculture based on slave labor caused economic inequality, which concentrated power in the hands of a small elite, adversely affecting the development of domestic institutions needed for sustained economic growth. I test for these relationships looking both across former New World economies and across states and counties within the U.S. I find evidence that slave use is negatively correlated with subsequent economic development. However, I do not find evidence that this negative relationship is driven by large scale plantation slavery, or that the relationship works through slavery’s effect on economic inequality.

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