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Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Slavery Paperback – January 23, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


"With one stroke [this book] turned around a whole field of interpretation and exposed the frailty of history done without science."

About the Author

Robert William Fogel, winner of the 1993 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, is director of the Center for Population Economics at the University of Chicago.

Stanley L. Engerman is an economist and economic historian at the University of Rochester. His controversial writings on the economics of slavery with economist Robert Fogel were some of the first modern treatments of the subject.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (August 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393312186
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393312188
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Felix Sonderkammer on August 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
Fogel and Engerman's work turns to primary sources to figure out exactly what the economics of slavery in the American South were like. It turns out that the predominant views are wrong: slavery wasn't unprofitable, slaves were well-nourished and lived almost as long as free laborers, slave families were rarely split up, resistance to slave-owners was rare, and on and on. Farms worked by slaves were 1/3 more efficient that farms worked by free laborers, and slaves received on average more of that higher income than free laborers did. A small proportion of slaves worked as skilled workers in management, engineering, or various crafts. Some of these earned higher incomes than their free counterparts.

Since this is only a book on the economics of slavery (as the book's subtitle says), it cannot examine the psychological or ethical damage that slavery caused, as the authors acknowledge. They do acknowledge that while slaves received a higher proportion of the pecuniary income they produced as wages, food, clothing, housing, and medical care than free laborers did, they also acknowledge that the non-pecuniary costs of slavery to the slaves themselves was enormous. The higher productivity of slave-worked farms was made possible, obviously enough, by forcing the slaves to do what free laborers could not be paid to do: work longer hours in a more regulated, larger farm. Interestingly enough, the gain in productivity this resulted in, while conveyed in small part to the slaves themselves in the form of higher income, did not accrue entirely or even in the most part to the planters. Rather, about half of it accrued to the consumers of cotton.
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Carl Sanders on July 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
One of the all-time classics in the genre of economic history, there have been very few more controversial books in the past half-century. There are still those today who call Fogel a racist or (as one other commentator did) an apologist for slavery. These people more than miss the point of this work. The profitability of slavery has nothing to do with the morality of it, as the authors point out. This is a survey and analysis of previously unresearched data. Fogel and Engerman take the first systematic look at data on slave movement, working conditions, life expectancy, and the economies of scale in both free labor and slave labor in the South.

Fogel and Engerman attack the thesis that slavery was impeding the economic progress of the South and would ultimately collapse under its own inefficiencies. Instead, they show investment in slaves was even more profitable than investments in free labor, and that owners had developed a wide system of incentives to induce quality labor from their slaves. Some claim that this means that Fogel and Engerman support slavery or that somehow this makes slavery palateable; to the contrary, their conclusion lends weight to the idea that only a Civil War would be able to end the evil practice, contrary to the hopes of many abolitionists who claimed slavery would fall apart due to its inherent weaknesses.

This work was originally shunned, but the force of its evidence and arguments has led it to become the mainstream interpretation in economic discussions of the Civil War period. Fogel recieved the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1993 (not solely for this work of course) and his most famous book is still the standard for excellence in his field.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Educated sea cucumber on September 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
A few other reviewers have given a very fair-minded and detailed description of the content of the book. Instead of trying to supplement those excellent reviews, and in light of the many vicious, angry and generally uninformed comments that I have seen on this site, perhaps I should mention a few facts about the circumstances with which the book was written that should clarify things for both readers and potential readers.

Robert Fogel, one of the authors of the book, was one of the extremely few white men at the time - and even today - to marry an African-American wife. At the time, having a mixed marriage was enough of a stigma to bar you from "civilized" circles. This was a major reason why, in spite of his obvious talent at a young age, Fogel only managed to find a job at the young and relatively untested economics department at the University of Rochester, and later on at the University of Chicago, another department that was considered well out of the mainstream. In short, this was a man who willingly sacrificed recognition and acceptance in his career out of pure, unprejudiced love. There's no other way to put it.

It also did not help that Fogel was not just sympathetic to communism in his early years (like many intellectuals at the time) but worked as a full time communist organizer for years, which again led to difficulties in his future career. Although his views changed, his concern with inequality never did; the vast majority of Fogel's academic work focuses on historical developments of institutions and how they relate to inequality and economic growth. Unlike other economists more preoccupied with abstract and fancy models of economic exchange, Fogel made it his life's work to study the experiences and lives of common men in history.
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