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date: 18 April 2024

Financial Economics of United States Slaverylocked

Financial Economics of United States Slaverylocked

  • Rajesh P. NarayananRajesh P. NarayananDepartment of Finance, Louisiana State University
  •  and Jonathan PritchettJonathan PritchettDepartment of Economics, Tulane University


Financial economics reveals that slaves were profitable investments and that the rate of return from owning slaves was at least as high as the return on comparable investments. The profitability of slavery depended on both the productivity and the market valuation of slaves. Owners increased the productivity of slaves by developing better strains of cotton, employing more efficient systems of production (gang labor), and using force and coercion (whippings). Efficient markets facilitated the interregional transfer of labor, and selective sales devastated slave families. Market studies show that slave prices reflected the capitalized value of labor and that they varied based on labor productivity. The profitability of slaves and the availability of efficient markets made slaves attractive investment vehicles for storing wealth. Their attractiveness as investments, however, may have had some other costs. Several studies argue and provide evidence that investment in slaves supplanted investment in other forms of physical and human capital, much to the detriment of southern industrialization and development. Besides serving as investment vehicles, slaves also facilitated financing. A growing body of work provides evidence that slaves were pledged as collateral to obtain credit.


  • Economic History
  • Financial Economics

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