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Fw: H-South Review: Marler on Ransom and Sutch, _One Kind of Freedom_, 2nd Ed.

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  • Ray Ortensie
    ... From: Ian Binnington, H-South To: Sent: Tuesday, September 10, 2002 7:27 AM Subject: H-South Review: Marler
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      ----- Original Message -----
      From: "Ian Binnington, H-South" <binningt@...>
      To: <H-SOUTH@...>
      Sent: Tuesday, September 10, 2002 7:27 AM
      Subject: H-South Review: Marler on Ransom and Sutch, _One Kind of Freedom_,
      2nd Ed.

      > Published by H-South@... (September 2002)
      > Roger L. Ransom and Richard Sutch. _One Kind of Freedom: The Economic
      > Consequences of Emancipation_. Second edition. New York and other cities:
      > Cambridge University Press, 2001. [xxviii] + 458. Tables, maps, notes,
      > bibliography, and index. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-521-79169-3; $23.00
      > (paper), 0-521-79550-8.
      > Reviewed for H-South by Scott P. Marler (scottm@...), Department of
      > History, Rice University
      > _One Kind of Freedom _: Reconstructed and Reconsidered
      > When it was first published in 1977, _One Kind of Freedom_ (or "1KF," as
      > the popular shorthand has it) constituted a relatively late entry to the
      > corpus of the "new economic history," whose adherents were prone to
      > solemn pronuncimientos regarding the impending "cliometric revolution" in
      > historical studies. In retrospect, its practitioners' occasional hubris
      > ironically may have helped provide fodder for a more durable
      > counterrevolution of sorts, the one fomented by "new social historians"
      > during the 1970s. In southern history, nowhere was this more the case than
      > in the politically charged and often shrill polemics of the _Time on the
      > Cross_ controversy a few years prior to _One Kind of Freedom_'s release.
      > [1] In this imbroglio, Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman's
      > conceptually flawed analysis of slavery as a viable, efficient economic
      > system served as intellectual roughage for a generation that at times
      > seemed more concerned with moral slam-dunks than with promoting fair and
      > accurate scholarly debate. By the time _One Kind of Freedom_ appeared, the
      > new economic history was thus widely viewed as something of a straw man,
      > already vanquished and slightly ridiculous opponent, by the ascendant
      > mainstream of the profession.
      > This historiographical context helps explain the relatively quiet and even
      > respectful reception that _One Kind of Freedom_ was accorded in the late
      > 1970s, but only in part. More substantively, the argument of _One Kind of
      > Freedom_ was on the surface quite commensurate with the drift of the new
      > social history. Its overall thrust was that the long-term persistence of
      > African American (and, by extension, regional) poverty was a result of the
      > perverse economic effects of white racism. In particular, Ransom and
      > Sutch's analysis of credit mechanisms and the furnishing merchant tended
      > lend support to the description of sharecropper "peonage" in the works of
      > then-young historians like Pete Daniel, William Cohen, and Jonathan
      > Helped by its not-inconsiderable virtues of being clearly written and
      > closely reasoned, _One Kind of Freedom_ has thereby enjoyed a fairly
      > privileged position in the historiography regarding the postbellum
      > economy for over a generation now. It also remains a perennial staple of
      > graduate student reading lists in southern history. To be sure, objections
      > have been raised to various aspects of _One Kind of Freedom_ over the
      > years, but the book has always seemed to display a rather Teflon quality
      > that has helped it to endure against attacks. However, Ransom and Sutch's
      > insistence on characterizing southern sharecropping as a form of farm
      > tenancy has put their work increasingly at odds with much of the scholarly
      > literature over the last two decades that views cropping as part of an
      > emergent free labor system for the region.
      > So when a second edition was announced, the interest of many was piqued to
      > see how Ransom and Sutch might alter their views on "the economic
      > consequences of emancipation," given the passage of two decades in which
      > absorb and reflect on criticisms. Indeed, a symposium was organized well
      > advance of the new edition's publication, held at Lehigh University in
      > 1999. [2] For those of us who did not attend this symposium, however, it
      > came as a bit of a surprise to discover -- nearly two years later, when
      > book was finally released -- that the new edition of _One Kind of Freedom_
      > contains very little that is, on the face of it, "new." There is a new
      > five-page preface, a new twenty-nine-page epilogue, and an updated
      > bibliography of relevant works in the field. But the text of the original
      > book is completely unchanged; even the pagination remains the same. (The
      > new cover does feature a different painting by the artist Robert Gwathmey,
      > as striking and appropriate as was the last one.)
      > Ransom and Sutch explain in their new epilogue that "rather than
      > our critics on matters of detail, we feel it would be more useful" to show
      > what "we [can] do today that we could not do twenty-five years ago" (317).
      > Essentially, they have gone back to their original data sets -- first
      > collected in the days of bulky mainframes and punch cards -- cleaned them
      > up, and converted them into formats manipulable on PCs (a CD-ROM
      > the revised data is supposedly available, but unfortunately it does not
      > accompany the book). [3] They also expanded their revised data set beyond
      > their original focus on the "Cotton South" to identify "peripheral"
      > southern regions that were more or less devoted to cotton production: a
      > "Cotton Penumbra," "mixed farming," and "general farming" areas, for
      > In the new epilogue, they subject this data to some limited re-analysis,
      > mostly on questions that they thought especially important; for example,
      > the cotton-corn mix and its contribution to what they call the "lock-in
      > mechanism" of cotton overproduction. More extensive analysis of these
      > peripheral regions might have helped to widen the context of their
      > study, which focused on the former slave-plantation Black Belt and thus
      > admittedly neglected the somewhat different (if no less disastrous)
      > experience of the upcountry white yeomanry after the war.
      > As Ransom and Sutch sum it up, since their "overall assessment of the
      > impact of emancipation" was "not . . . greatly altered" (317) by either
      > cleaned-up, now-easily manipulable data or by their glance at the newly
      > defined "peripheral" regions, they felt no need to revise or expand the
      > original text at all, not even in light of a quarter-century of respectful
      > criticisms and subsequent scholarship. [4] One might have hoped that they
      > would have revisited the text using their reconfigured data, perhaps using
      > it to expand or refine their analysis at certain key junctures. For
      > example, furnishing merchants' ostensible "territorial monopolies" (chap.
      > 7) and the "debt peonage" (chap. 8) that resulted from them are not
      > re-examined at all, even though Ransom and Sutch admit in the new preface
      > that these topics were the subject of "[m]ost of the controversy relating
      > to the first edition of the book" (xx). [5] While it is admittedly not
      > completely unusual for a "new" edition to remain largely unchanged, the
      > relative hoopla surrounding the book in its lengthy pre-release stages led
      > at least this reader to expect a little more in the way of an updated
      > version that would indeed directly address various critical "matters of
      > detail."
      > Lest I sound crabby and unforgiving, however, it should be pointed out
      > cleaning up, reformatting, and adding to the original data sets was
      > an enormous undertaking, even with the help of new technology. Ransom and
      > Sutch should be commended for ensuring that their data set (still surely
      > the largest and widest-ranging one yet collected for postbellum southern
      > economic history) will become readily available for the next generation of
      > scholars to access, amend, and also use as necessary to challenge _One
      > of Freedom's_ various unrevised conclusions. In this sense, the new
      > represents a generous effort on the part of two scholars who have never
      > been reluctant to engage with other historians, and the CD-ROM of the
      > revised data set -- if it ever hits the market -- may even be helping
      > supply their critics with future ammunition.
      > The unrevised central argument of _One Kind of Freedom_ was (and is)
      > admirably and succinctly stated up front in the book: "Our thesis is that
      > the lack of progress in the postemancipation era was the consequence of
      > flawed economic institutions erected in the wake of the Confederate
      > (2). This declared focus on "institutions" remains vital to understanding
      > the argumentative context of the book. Institutions, for Ransom and Sutch,
      > are not merely organizations (like banks) or groups (like furnishing
      > merchants), although both of these come in for critical analysis in _One
      > Kind of Freedom_. But institutions are also the wider formal and informal
      > systems that shape and restrict behavior and decision-making -- the law,
      > for example, is an institution. Most importantly in the case of _One Kind
      > of Freedom_, the system of sharecropping is described and contextually
      > analyzed as an evolving economic institution, albeit a profoundly "flawed"
      > Ransom and Sutch's overall approach is derived from the contemporary
      > of institutional economics, and it is important to understand the distinct
      > status that this school occupies in modern economic theory. [6] Although
      > institutional economics is a diverse school that encompasses a wide
      > of thinkers, it tends to be more or less explicitly opposed to the more
      > restrictive market-privileging models of neoclassical economics. At the
      > risk of vast oversimplification, its hallmark as a theory of economic
      > development is an emphasis on process and context. "The fundamental
      > institutionalist position," writes Warren Samuels, is "that the market
      > gives effect to the institutions (or power structure) which form and
      > operate through it." [7] This basic assumption of a broadly conceived,
      > interwoven, and shifting institutional playing field for economic behavior
      > is distinct from both the neoclassical perspective, which insists on the
      > primary importance of the rules of an ahistorical, abstract "free market,"
      > and the Marxist view, which tends to view institutions as
      > to the mode of production.
      > The institutional approach has proven to be especially popular among
      > economic historians. The most prominent current American practitioner of
      > the "new" institutional economics, Douglass C. North (who taught both
      > Ransom and Sutch, and was the former's thesis adviser), declared in his
      > speech accepting the 1993 Nobel Prize for Economics, "Neoclassical theory
      > is simply an inappropriate tool" for historical analysis, because "it is
      > concerned with the operation of markets, not with how markets develop."
      > On the one hand, therefore, the precepts of institutional economics are
      > quietly contrapuntal to (even as they parallel certain sociological
      > assumptions of) Marxist class analysis; terms such as _proletariat_,
      > _peasantry_, and _bourgeiosie_ play little role, if any, in institutional
      > economics generally, or in _One Kind of Freedom_ specifically. But on the
      > other hand, and just as importantly, properly situating _One Kind of
      > Freedom's_ approach on a historiographical continuum requires a degree of
      > precision in the other direction: by understanding institutional
      > largely revisionist relationship to neoclassical orthodoxy regarding
      > economies. It is not accurate to argue, as did Jonathan Wiener in his
      > famous 1979 article on southern "class structure and economic
      > that Ransom and Sutch "[start] from neoclassical market theory."
      > Ultimately, Wiener would correctly characterize the conclusions of _One
      > Kind of Freedom_ as "occupying a middle ground," but the reason why this
      > should be the case seemed to puzzle and elude him -- precisely because he,
      > like others, misconstrued the significance and uniqueness of the school of
      > economic thought from which Ransom and Sutch drew their initial
      > assumptions, methods, and ways of framing questions. [9]
      > One of the probable reasons for the long-term durability of _One Kind of
      > Freedom_ is because of this "middle ground" that it occupies between true
      > neoclassicists (like Robert Higgs and Stephen DeCanio) and neo-Marxists
      > (like Jonathan Wiener and Harold D. Woodman). The institutional approach
      > employed by Ransom and Sutch allows them to maintain much of the
      > methodological rigor of mathematically inclined economics, yet its
      > emphasis on historical context and development leaves room for the
      > acknowledgment and incorporation of so-called "exogenous" factors -- like
      > racism, political power, and even class structure -- that neoclassical
      > economists are prone to underestimate or ignore (perhaps largely because
      > such factors are so resistant to quantification). Indeed, from the
      > standpoint of its insistence on the influence of structural and other
      > "exogenous" factors; its relative attention to contingency and
      > unanticipated consequences in social settings; and its lack of faith in
      > behavioral underpinnings of neoclassicism (particularly the necessary
      > assumption of rationality among actors in a free-market setting),
      > institutional economics looks a lot more like the sort of objective,
      > multicausal, and rather skeptical form of inductive inquiry that most
      > non-economist historians tend to associate with their craft. Indeed,
      > and Sutch's institutional approach might be said to represent an economic
      > form of what has been called "moderate historicism," a characterization
      > which also serves to underscore the lengthy intellectual kinship between
      > institutional economics and American pragmatism. [10]
      > Ransom and Sutch's conclusions, which bluntly condemn "flawed economic
      > institutions" and their long-term effects, certainly are quite distinct
      > from those mainstream neoclassicists who see southern sharecropping not as
      > an exploitative and markedly inefficient system but as -- to use one
      > memorable phrase -- "an understandable market response." [11] From the
      > standpoint of some of their critics on the historiographical left,
      > Ransom and Sutch did not go far enough in their critique to merit full
      > distinction from the neoclassicists. Why is this the case?
      > It is not merely that Ransom and Sutch fail to speak the patois of class
      > analysis. It is more that, to their critics, the very notion of a "flawed"
      > system is taken to assume the sort of normative "free market" associated
      > with neoclassical theory. Ransom and Sutch, in this view, are more
      > by perversions of free-market mechanisms such as territorial monopolies
      > than they are by the qualitative injustices of the system they are
      > analyzing. But Ransom and Sutch's methodology attempted to "measure"
      > injustice in an economic setting while allowing for the significant
      > of cultural and political factors, particularly racism. Even if this
      > Sisyphean task is attempted in part by comparing what we know about
      > southern sharecropping to abstract models of "perfect" market behavior
      > rarely (if ever) exists in reality, that does not necessarily either
      > obviate their methods or their conclusions. Certainly their fondness for
      > number-crunching should not justify placing them, ipso facto, in the
      > company of those neoclassicists with whom their conclusions are in such
      > obvious disagreement.
      > It must be admitted that many "pure" historians may not be overly
      > by the distinctions between the institutionalist or neoclassicist schools:
      > "An economist is an economist is an economist," they might cynically huff.
      > Southernists, however, would do well to heed another telling example of
      > difference between Ransom and Sutch and those who tend to slot _One Kind
      > Freedom_ in the neoclassicist camp. The dispute centers around whether
      > sharecroppers should be regarded as tenant farmers who paid half of their
      > production to a landlord as rent (Ransom and Sutch's position), or whether
      > they were wage workers who received half of the crop as compensation (an
      > argument most compellingly articulated in the work of Harold Woodman).
      > Whichever stance one adopts, the choice is not a random
      > "half-empty/half-full" semantic generalization that makes little or no
      > ultimate difference. Ransom and Sutch's characterization of
      > croppers-as-tenants reinforces the now-passé "peonage" interpretation
      > advanced by the new social historians of the 1970s, It implies a view of
      > the New South as an atavistic society that would be long encumbered by the
      > cultural, political, and economic legacy of a centuries-long
      > slave mode of production. But scholarship over the last two decades has
      > clearly drifted in a different direction. Rather than quasi-peonage or
      > neo-paternalism, current conventional wisdom regards the economy and
      > relations of the New South as merely one moderately-peculiar exploitative
      > form among the many possible on the world-capitalist developmental arc
      > the late nineteenth century forward. And the "croppers-as-wage-workers"
      > view provides the "evolving bourgeois society" of the post-Civil War South
      > with what this view logically (or, dialectically) seems to call for -- a
      > "rural proletariat." [13]
      > I will not delve into what I see as the weaknesses of this emergent
      > historiographical consensus in this review, but clearly such disputes over
      > the fundamental nature of southern sharecropping -- and, by implication,
      > the entire postbellum South -- are of profound importance, and they
      > closer evaluation even by non-economic historians, many of whom often
      > casually adopt aspects of the "New [Capitalist] South" interpretation
      > without careful consideration of the assumptions on which they apparently
      > rest. Interestingly, particularly in light of the criticisms of _One Kind
      > of Freedom_ as beholden to neoclassical theory, the notion of a somewhat
      > inexorable movement of the postemancipation South toward deeply imbricated
      > capitalist social relations, especially as a result of changes in labor
      > organization, actually seems far more redolent of a neoclassical sense of
      > "free market" development and primacy than does Ransom and Sutch's
      > insistence on the causal priority of "flawed institutions."
      > It is a shame that Ransom and Sutch did not enter into this fray with
      > second edition of _One Kind of Freedom_. In the original, still-unrevised
      > text of the book, the two economically trained historians work from within
      > a social-scientific discursive tradition that circumvents rather than
      > directly addresses such fundamental differences between them and more
      > Marxist-influenced interpretations. And, as previously mentioned, they
      > consciously chose not to address these and other critics on more specific
      > "matters of detail" in their new edition. Nevertheless, despite its
      > somewhat anomalous historiographic status -- still very well regarded by
      > most historians, yet in several respects clearly out of step with
      > fashionable understandings of the postbellum South -- _One Kind of
      > is likely to remain what it has been for a quarter-century now: the single
      > best introduction to the economy of the early postemancipation South.
      > [Parts of this review are excerpted from a longer essay, "The
      > Reconstruction of _One Kind of Freedom_ : New Edition, New Thoughts," a
      > version of which was presented at the recent conference of The Historical
      > Society in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 17, 2002.]
      > _Notes_
      > [1]. Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman, _Time on the Cross: The
      > Economics of American Negro Slavery_ (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company,
      > 1974). For criticisms of Fogel and Engerman's work see, for example,
      > Herbert G. Gutman, _Slavery and the Numbers Game: A Critique of Time on
      > Cross_ (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois University press, 1975); and
      > Paul A. David, et al, _Reckoning with Slavery: A Critical Study in the
      > Quantitative History of American Negro Slavery_ (New York: Oxford
      > University Press, 1976).
      > [2]. The results of this symposium were published as the January 2001
      > of _Explorations in Economic History_, which is essential supplementary
      > reading to the new edition of _One Kind of Freedom_. (For reasons unknown,
      > even the published symposium beat the book into print by nearly a year.)
      > features brief contributions by Gavin Wright, Peter A. Coclanis, Harold D.
      > Woodman, and Stanley Engerman, as well as a piece by Ransom and Sutch,
      > Kind of Freedom Reconsidered (and Turbo Charged)" (6-39) that is as
      > and illuminating as anything new in the second edition of _One Kind of
      > Freedom_.
      > [3]. Note 4 of the epilogue to the second edition (417) states that "a CD
      > Rom with this data in several formats is available from Cambridge
      > University Press," and several people who attended the Lehigh symposium
      > told me they had copies of it in their possession. Despite my efforts,
      > however, Cambridge University Press has as yet been unwilling to divulge
      > the existence, impending or otherwise, of this CD-ROM.
      > [4]. For an early volume of criticism devoted to _One Kind of Freedom_ see
      > Gary M. Walton and James F. Shepherd, eds., _Market Institutions and
      > Economic Change in the New South, 1865-1900_ (New York: Academic Press,
      > [5]. See several of the essays in Walton and Shepherd; and also, more
      > recently, Louis M. Kyriakoudes, "Lower-Order Urbanization and Territorial
      > Monopoly in the Southern Furnishing Trade: Alabama, 1871-1890, _Social
      > Science History_ 26 (Spring 2002), 179-98.
      > [6]. For the background and significance of institutional economics see
      > Charles J. Whalen, "The Institutional Approach to Political Economy," in
      > _Beyond Neoclassical Economics: Heterodox Approaches to Economic Theory_,
      > Fred E. Foldvary, ed. (Brookfield, Vt.: Edward Elgar, 1996), 83-99. See
      > also Eric Hobsbawm, "Historians and Economists: I," in Hobsbawm, _On
      > History_ (New York, 1997), 98-105, in which he astutely traces the genesis
      > of the institutionalist reaction against neoclassicism to the "now largely
      > forgotten" _Methodenstreit_ of the 1880s, a seminal debate over "the value
      > of inductive and deductive methods" in history and economics (99).
      > [7]. Warren J. Samuels, ed., _Institutional Economics_ (3 vols.;
      > Brookfield, Vt.: Edward Elgar, 1988), I, 3.
      > [8]. North quoted in Robert William Fogel, "Douglass C. North and Economic
      > Theory," which is included in the festschrift to North, _The Frontiers of
      > the New Institutional Economics_, John N. Drobak and John V. C. Nye, eds.
      > (San Diego: Academic Press, 1997), 20. On Ransom and Sutch as North's
      > students see the acknowledgements to _One Kind of Freedom_, xxiii. The
      > profound differences between neoclassical and institutional economics in
      > the U.S. are discussed in Yuval P. Yonay, _The Struggle Over the Soul of
      > Economics: Institutionalist and Neoclassical Economists in America between
      > the Wars_ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998); but on the
      > contemporary breadth of the institutionalist school, particularly the
      > between the "old" and the "new" institutionalism, see Malcolm Rutherford,
      > _Institutions in Economics: The Old and the New Institutionalism_ (New
      > and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
      > [9]. Wiener, "Class Structure and Economic Development," 977 (both
      > quotations). See also Harold D. Woodman, "Sequel to Slavery: The New
      > History Views the Postbellum South," _Journal of Southern History_ 43
      > (November 1977), 536: "Ransom and Sutch do not eschew neoclassical
      > economics; on the contrary, it is the theoretical foundation of their
      > work." One of the only scholars to explicitly recognize the heterodox,
      > non-neoclassicist bent of Ransom and Sutch's work is Edward Royce, _The
      > Origins of Southern Sharecropping_ (Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
      > 1993), 7-17, esp. 15-16. Also note the earlier critique of Ransom and
      > from an explicitly neoclassical standpoint in William W. Brown and Morgan
      > O. Reynolds, "Debt Peonage Re-examined," _Journal of Economic History_ 33
      > (December 1973), 862-71.
      > [10]. On the relationship between the founders of the "old" institutional
      > economics (like Thorstein Veblen, and Richard T. Ely and John R. Commons
      > [the 'Wisconsin school']), social-democratic theory, and the instrumental
      > form of reason in American pragmatism during the early twentieth century,
      > see James T. Kloppenberg, _Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and
      > Progressivism in American and European Thought, 1870-1920_ (New York and
      > Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 224-46, esp. 241-42, and 290; and
      > Daniel T. Rodgers, _Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive
      > Age_ (Cambridge, Mass., and London: Harvard University Press, 1998),
      > 97-111. See also Philip Mirowski, "The Philosophical Bases of
      > Economics," _Journal of Economic Issues_ 21 (September 1987), 1001-38; E.
      > E. Liebhafsky, "The Influence of Charles Sanders Peirce on Institutional
      > Economics," _Journal of Economic Issues_ 27 (September 1993), 741-54.
      > [11]. Joseph D. Reid, "Sharecropping as an Understandable Market Response:
      > The Post-Bellum South," _Journal of Economic History_ 33 (March 1973),
      > 106-30. Much of the neoclassical scholarship of the last few decades that
      > has attempted to rehabilitate sharecropping (not just its variant in the
      > U.S. South) as an "efficient" economic practice has been inspired by the
      > work of Steven N. S. Cheung; see his _The Theory of Share Tenancy, with
      > Special Application to Asian Agriculture and the First Phase of Taiwan
      > Reform_ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969). For a critique of
      > Cheung see R. Pearce, "Sharecropping: Towards a Marxist View," in
      > _Sharecropping and Sharecroppers_, T. J. Byres, ed. (London: F. Cass,
      > 1983), 48-52; see also how Ransom and Sutch purposely distanced themselves
      > from Cheung and his followers in _One Kind of Freedom_, 383 n. 67.
      > [12]. See esp. Woodman's most recent book, _New South -- New Law: The
      > Foundations of Credit and Labor Relations in the Postbellum Agricultural
      > South_ (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1995),
      > which in many ways synthesizes decades of superb, insightful essays and
      > meticulous research by him.
      > [13]. For a discussion and critique of this new historiographic consensus,
      > see Alex Lichtenstein, "Proletarians or Peasants?: Sharecroppers and the
      > Politics of Protest in the Rural South, 1880-1940," _Plantation Society in
      > the Americas_ 5 (Fall 1998), 297-331; and Scott P. Marler, "The
      > Reconstruction of _One Kind of Freedom_: New Edition, New Thoughts,"
      > unpublished paper presented at The Historical Society conference in
      > Atlanta, Georgia, May 17, 2002. For an acknowledgment that the "new
      > capitalist society" of the postbellum South represents recent
      > wisdom," see John C. Rodrigue, "More Souths?" _Reviews in American
      > 30 (March 2002), 66-71.
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