The economic effects of disenfranchisement

by on May 22, 2010 at 7:14 am in Economics, History, Law | Permalink

Via Chris Blattman, here is a newish paper by Suresh Naidu, on how disenfranchisement translated into inferior economic outcomes for African-Americans:

This paper estimates the political and economic effects of the 19th century disenfranchisement of black citizens in the U.S. South. Using adjacent county-pairs that straddle state boundaries, I rst examine the effect of voting restrictions on political competition. I find that poll taxes and literacy tests each lowered overall electoral turnout by 10-23% and increased the Democratic vote share in national elections by 5%-10%. Second, employing newly collected data on schooling inputs, I show that disenfranchisement reduced the teacher-child and teacher-student ratio in black schools. Finally, I develop a model of suffrage restriction and redistribution in a 2-factor economy with occupational choice to generate sufficient statistics for welfare analysis of the incidence of black disenfranchisement. Consistent with the model, disenfranchised counties experienced a 7% increase in land and farm values per decade, despite a 4% fall in the black population share. The estimated factor market responses suggest that black labor bore a collective loss from disenfranchisement equivalent to at least 13% of annual income, much of which was transferred to landowners.

Here is Naidu's home page.  Where did he end up getting a job?

1 Bill May 22, 2010 at 8:04 am

Well, they won’t teach this is Texas history books.

This is an interesting subject. For those interested in Civil War Reconstruction period, you might download some lectures at Yale by Prof. Bright on Post Civil War politics and economics. Available here at Also, Brad DeLong has some lectures on post Civil War economic history in his economic history of the US, available as a free podcast at ITunesU.

Both lectures really filled a gap in my understanding black rural poor after the Civil War.

Eye opening.

2 Andrew May 22, 2010 at 8:29 am

Bill. They don’t teach any economics in public school history books.

We also don’t have the counterfactual of how well off the black/poor in the south would be had the Feds not torched the place.

3 Bill May 22, 2010 at 8:54 am


My Texas comment was directed at the Texas Department of Education’s change of the phrase: “Slave Trade” to, believe it or not, to “Atlantic Triagular Trade.”

As for teaching economic history in history books, I beg to differ. History books do cover economic history.

Must have been missing that day.

4 ziel May 22, 2010 at 9:18 am

Bill, not sure they’ll be able to get to this topic in the other states, either – unless they shave off some of the months they spend teaching about Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman.

5 Andrew May 22, 2010 at 9:21 am


I guess this is what you are talking about.

Frankly, from the description here, it looks like more detail has been provided. For example, describing the USA as a “constititutional republic” is more detailed and more correct than a “democracy.” I had to Wiki it, but if “Triangular Trade” is more indicative of the economic incentives then maybe it is better than just talking about the “slave trade” if there was more to it than just evil honkeys.

As for big committees deciding what your kids learn, if you believe in central control, you have to be open to the possibility that you will lose.

6 BKarn May 22, 2010 at 10:27 am

And “Atlantic Triangular Trade” is wrong and unbelievable why?

7 JSK May 22, 2010 at 11:04 am

“I had to Wiki it, but if “Triangular Trade” is more indicative of the economic incentives then maybe it is better than just talking about the “slave trade” if there was more to it than just evil honkeys.”

Hmm.. and you just said that economics has no place in public school books. The twists and turns you get yourself into…

@Bkarn: It trivializes black slavery. Its like calling the nationalization of jewish propery in the Third Reich “affirmative action for ethnic Germans”.

8 Andrew May 22, 2010 at 11:31 am

Hmm.. and you just said that economics has no place in public school books. The twists and turns you get yourself into…

What? No, I said it has no place NOW (or at least when I was in hell), but from reading about the “Triangular Trade” it appears to present a more economically literate view of “the slave trade.”

Now, if the school board is doing this solely to obfuscate, then maybe Bill is right. But, I would bet that it is The Left that is stung by the more objective description of the economics of history that lessens the imputations of good and evil.

9 Andrew May 22, 2010 at 11:40 am

“Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman”

What, none of the government officials who ended discrimination? Only these me-too-artists?

10 Andrew May 22, 2010 at 12:12 pm

JSK, you aren’t getting it, which is understandable. I’m not for or against anything here. I don’t have to be.

I can be firmly for the position that yes (if Bill is right) then the Texas Schoolboard is wrong. It is also wrong that schoolboards decide curriculum for a large part of the country (and yes, textbooks will go away). It is also wrong to spout about racism when in fact racism was the order of the day. It is also wrong to pretend that the government led the charge against racism when they were firmly for it before they were against it.

I’m a coward. That’s a new one.

11 Tom West May 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm

But, I would bet that it is The Left that is stung by the more objective description of the economics of history that lessens the imputations of good and evil.

Yes, that’s exactly the problem. The slave trade *was* evil, pure and simple, and this renaming is a deliberate attempt to examine it primarily from an economic history perspective, instead of the perspective that actually matters to modern American society.

The primary importance of the slave trade to modern society is its impact on the millions of its victims and their descendants. It is this impact that makes it worthy of study in a high school curriculum. Attempting to shift the primary focus to the economics is to miss the main reason for studying it entirely.

Andrew, let’s not be disingenuous. If you don’t believe high school students should be exposed to the history of the slave trade, just say so. This “oh it’s more accurate” prattle when *everyone* involved knows what it’s actually about just makes you look like you don’t have the guts to tackle the real question.

12 Andrew May 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm

I suspect you guys don’t know what you are talking about:

“1723 Russia abolishes slavery”

The progressive individualist Russians?

How is it the US was so late in abolishing slavery? Probably the underlying economics. So, perhaps understanding underlying economics would be useful to understanding the period and why people of that day could tolerate something that people today can’t even tolerate teaching in objective detail.

13 dearieme May 22, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Perhaps I shouldn’t intrude on your argument, but The Triangular Trade was taught in Scottish schools fifty years ago, as a description of how the slave trade operated; it sounds rather parochial to object to the term. And, as a foreigner, I’d guess that MLK was well worth a mention in lists of leading American figures – far more worthy than Einstein, who had done all his work long before he emigrated to the USA. Apart from anything else, historians tend to overemphasise the role of elected politicians and underemphasise the citizenry, so hurray for a change in emphasis.

14 JSK May 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm

“You guys are promoting history as morality. I’m promoting history as the way it was.”

Ah. YOU dont get it. History is not value free science. “The way it was” depends on who’s perspective you take. African-Americans (rightly I might add) feel slavery in the U.S. wronged their ancestors: that’s why its taught, precisely because its NOT value free. Before you get all foamy at the mouth: U.S. schools also teach about Japanese internment camps and nazi death camps from the perspective of the victims.

15 Andrew May 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm

“Ah. YOU dont get it. History is not value free science. “The way it was” depends on who’s perspective you take.”

I see. You guys view history the same way you view science.

And while you guys are trying to win what we call the slave trade, you are missing that THIS is Amerika today- run by the victors, just how you like your history.

Democrats are as useless on truth as they are on civil rights. I don’t say “liberals” here because I at least have hope that liberals have been duped.

16 Steve Sailer May 22, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Regarding Naidu’s paper, it sounds like excellent work, although his results are hardly surprising. Thomas Sowell has long argued that the 1965 Voting Rights Act was the most effective of the civil rights bills, in that it established a fair marketplace for political power in the South.

17 Steve Sailer May 22, 2010 at 5:14 pm

I recently read a major American history textbook, McGraw-Hill’s “Nation of Nations.” It was interesting to see how, at least outside Texas, American history is rewritten to meet the demands of diversity.

For example, the Wright Brothers went unmentioned in this 1100 page book, but an illegal alien supermarket employee named Juan Chanax, whose sole accomplishment has been recruiting 1000 of his fellow villagers from Guatemala to illegally immigrate to Houston, is mentioned on six pages.

18 nyongesa May 23, 2010 at 3:38 am

(Yes, I know you libs think we’d still have slaves, so save it) by Andrew

As this early comment on the thread illustrates, nothing black of America, is not white hot, easily flaming out subjective discussion, for otherwise articulate, learned folks who cannot suppress the tribal instinct within.

11 responses, to one measly comment, is a tip of an ugly iceberg.

As to Martin Luther King, and other civil right heroes, these are the relevant figures for the current generation of teachers who came of political age during that movements cresting. They are also recent enough for parents and broader social context to re-enforce what children are being taught. Teaching history, a meta form of acculturation of the young, is basically the transmission of a set of social narratives with a changing cast, the Joan of arc, becomes the MLK of later generations, for whom the latency of the latter resonates.

The fact that the MLK narrative, which is mind you, the most relevant dynamic of a young American, who have been forging through the new dominant paradigm of integrated multicultural life no previous generation has faced, does not resonate with you Zeil is fine, I don’t like all Disney movies either, But I appreciate them for they’re purpose.

19 Steve Sailer May 23, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Right, good point. Humanitarian reformers focused first on the Slave Trade as the worst thing of all.

Outlawing the slave trade meant that shipping interests in the American North and in England no longer benefited directly from slavery, so slavery’s political base in the English-speaking world was reduced to regions of large scale slaveholding: the American South and the West Indies.

After Bostonians were forced of the Slave Trade in 1808, the next generation of Bostonians started to get much more worked up about the evils of slavery in the South and many became abolitionists. More than few 19th Century Bostonian abolitionists could afford to devote time and money to denouncing slavery in the South because of all the money Grandfather Ephraim made in the 18th Century selling slaves to the South.

But, that is how moral progress is made, and we should be glad for it. But we shouldn’t forget it either.

20 gucci bags June 24, 2010 at 11:46 pm

I would hardly call this economics in the narrow sense Andrew.

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