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The boll weevil is America's most celebrated agricultural pest. We analyze new county-level panel data to provide sharp estimates of the time path of the insect's effects on the southern economy. We find that in anticipation of the contact, farmers increased production, attempting to squeeze out one last large crop. Upon arrival, the weevil had a large negative and lasting impact on cotton production, acreage, and especially yields. In response, rather than taking land out of agricultural production, farmers shifted to other crops. We also find striking effects on land values and population movements.
Control of livestock disease had large spillover effects on human health. By 1900 the United States was a leader in livestock disease control, thanks to the efforts of the Bureau of Animal Industry. Its first chief, Daniel Salmon, established a model that would be copied around the world in campaigns against human and animal diseases. For the most part, the Progressive Era regulations to advance livestock health and food safety were spectacular successes. The bureau's main blunder was its failure to deal effectively with trichinosis, which was far more widespread than generally believed.
The cliometrics literature on slave efficiency has generally focused on static questions. We take a decidedly more dynamic approach. Drawing on the records of 142 plantations with 509 crops years, we show that the average daily cotton-picking rate increased about fourfold between 1801 and 1862. We argue that the development and diffusion of new cotton varieties were the primary sources of the increased efficiency. These findings have broad implications for understanding the South's preeminence in the world cotton market, the pace of westward expansion, and the importance of indigenous technological innovation.
The active opposition to technical change has frequently impeded economic growth. This article examines the widespread resistance to government-led campaigns to use new tuberculin testing technologies to eradicate bovine tuberculosis in the United States. We explore three issues: the political economy of opposition; the role of earlier scientific controversies in the discourse; and the techniques used by the opponents. Over time, the protests shifted from challenging the scientific merits of the testing technology to more nuts-and-bolts distributional and administrative issues.
In 1900 bovine tuberculosis was a serious and growing threat to animal and human health. Early private and state initiatives in the United States often increased the incentives for the interstate trade of diseased stock. One unscrupulous dealer exposed thousands of dairy herds and families to the disease. Our study helps explain the expanding federal role in regulating food safety. In this case regulations arose from genuine health concerns. Before the development of strict regulations, diagnostic innovations that could have helped prevent the spread of the disease actually made the operation of markets worse by aggravating asymmetric information problems.
In 1917, after scientific breakthroughs allowed for the early detection of bovine tuberculosis, the USDA began a campaign to eradicate the disease. Agents inspected nearly every cattle farm in the country and condemned roughly 4 million reactors to slaughter without full compensation. This article analyzes how the eradication program functioned, how incentives were aligned to ensure widespread participation without excessive moral hazard problems, and why the United States led most European nations in controlling the disease. The U.S. campaign was a spectacular success, reducing human suffering and death and yielding benefits in the farm sector alone that exceeded ten times the cost.
Between 1928 and 1960 U.S. cotton production experienced a revolution with average yields roughly tripling while the quality of the crop increased significantly. This article analyzes the key institutional and scientific developments that facilitated the revolution in biological technologies, pointing to the importance of two government programs—the one-variety community movement and the Smith-Doxey Act—as catalysts for change. The story displays two phenomena germane to the recent literature: an important real-world example of Akerlof's lemons model and a case in which inventors, during an early phase of the product cycle, encouraged consumers to copy and disseminate their intellectual property.We would like to thank Shelby Baker, Dick Bassett, Fred Bourland, J. Jerome Boyd, David L. Carlton, Peter Coclanis, Harry B. Collins, John Constantine, Tom Culp, Early C. Ewing Jr., Deborah K. Fitzgerald, Janet Hudson, Susana Iranzo, Hal Lewis, Gary Libecap, Shelagh Mackay, C. W. Manning, Leslie Maulhardt, William Meredith, Robert Margo, Massimo Morelli, Larry Nelson, Carl Pray, Gene Seigler, Macon Steele, Nancy Virts, Henry Webb, Gavin Wright, and two anonymous referees for their comments and assistance. Julian Alston played an especially important role in shaping our analysis. We also benefited from the comments of the seminar participants at the Triangle Economic History Workshop, the University of Mississippi, Harvard University, the Spring 2002 All-UC Group in Economic History Conference at Scripps College, and the 2003 Meetings of the American Historical Association. Work on this article was facilitated by a fellowship granted by the International Centre for Economic Research (ICER) in Turin, Italy.
Standard treatments of U.S. agriculture assert that, before the 1930s, productivity growth was almost exclusively the result of mechanization rather than biological innovations. This article shows that U.S. wheat production witnessed wholesale changes in varieties and cultural practices during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Without these changes, vast expanses of the wheat belt could not have sustained commercial production and yields everywhere would have plummeted due to the increasing severity of insects, diseases, and weeds. Revised estimates of Parker and Klein’s productivity calculations indicate that biological innovations contributed roughly half of labor-productivity growth between 1839 and 1909.
This article analyzes the revolutionary impact the tractor had on rural America and examines the economic, technological, and institutional factors governing the machine's diffusion. Our simultaneous-equation regression model helps decipher the complex relationship between farm scale and diffusion. In addition, analyzing diffusion as a capital replacement problem reveals that the shift to the new technology was far more rapid than what has generally been thought and provides a new perspective on the long co-existence of both horses and tractors on farms.
During the late nineteenth century, competition from cheap American grains undermined agricultural economies across Europe. This article investigates how similar forces of globalization in the production of Mediterranean fruits and nuts dampened economic prospects across southern Europe and in some cases contributed to outright economic and political crises.
This article analyzes a large quantity of new data documenting the actual characteristics and behavior of early reaper adopters. It shows that a surprisingly large number of small-scale farmers were among the early purchasers and that institutional evolution—the emergence of local markets and cooperative exchanges for reaper services—encouraged rapid diffusion. These findings call into question the standard interpretation of northern farms as self-contained production units and, more specifically, challenge the usefulness of both the farm-specific-threshold model and the family-labor-constraint model.
By 1950 cotton had emerged as one of California's leading crops and California had become an important cotton producing state. The institutional and environmental settings associated with cotton cultivation in California differed markedly from those found in the Cotton South. Both institutional conditions, such as the size of farms, and environmental factors, such as the region's dry weather during the harvest season, help explain the more rapid mechanization of picking in California.
In the June 1977 issue of this Journal, Lewis R. Jones criticized my analysis of the diffusion of mechanical reaping and mowing machinery. Jones attempts to revive the threshold argument popularized by Paul David. In doing so Jones either confuses or ignores the main points I raised while concentrating on a peripheral issue of little significance.
I raised three major issues. First, and of least importance, I revised the values of some of the parameters David used to estimate the threshold acreage. Jones correctly notes that I erred by reporting that the revised threshold was more than twice as large as that previously estimated; the correct calculation is about 93 percent, as Jones notes. If I were to write the paper again, I would correct this mistake. Nonetheless, my major conclusions on this issue are unaltered. Revising two of the parameters used to calculate the threshold acreage so that they better conform with the actual historical situation generates a threshold about twice as large as that previously estimated. I felt this discrepancy was sufficient to cast reasonable doubt on previous estimates, and I noted that similar revisions could be made of most of the parameters and variables used for such estimations (p. 333). Anyone who doubts this assertion should see Robert Ankli's excellent work on the subject.