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Lecture Videos

Between Slavery and Capitalism by Martin Ruef

Please enjoy our first 2013-2014 CSES Lecture Series event that took place on September 26th, 2013 at Cornell University in Goldwin Smith Hall. Professor Martin Ruef presented his research “Between Slavery and Capitalism: The Legacy of Emancipation in the American South.”


In the U.S. South, a free labor market rapidly—although, in some cases, only nominally— replaced the plantation system of slave labor in the years following the American Civil War. Drawing on data comprising 75,099 transactions in the antebellum period, as well as 1,378 labor contracts in the postbellum era, I examine how the valuation of black labor was transformed between the 1830s and the years of emancipation. I trace the process of valuation through four markets for labor, moving from slave purchases and appraisals within the plantation economy, to the antebellum system of hiring out, to wage-setting for black labor under the auspices of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Comparative analysis of labor pricing across these markets reveals systematic differences: slave markets placed price premiums on children and young women, and occupational skills emerged as the most salient influence in the pricing of wage labor. I conclude by theorizing how transvaluation of labor occurs when markets for unfree and free workers are governed by distinct institutional conditions.


Martin Ruef’s research considers the social context of entrepreneurship from both a contemporary and historical perspective. He draws on large-scale surveys of entrepreneurs in the United States to explore processes of team formation, innovation, exchange, and boundary maintenance in nascent business startups. Ruef’s historical analyses address entrepreneurial activity and constraint during periods of profound institutional change. This work has considered a diverse range of sectors, including the organizational transformation of Southern agriculture and industry after the Civil War, the transition of the U.S. healthcare system from professional monopoly to managed care, and the character of entrepreneurship during the Industrial Revolution.

Lecture Videos

The Gentlemen Slavers by Paul Ingram

In this CSES Lecture Series Paul Ingram, Columbia Business School, considers the influences on entering into ‘dirty business’ or economic activity that violates cultural values. He considers individual disposition to violate norms as a function of status, social contagion in a network, where status determines influence, and the role of a social movement to ignite attention to the norms and their violation. Paul analyzes who entered the Liverpool slave trade. He finds that high status Gentlemen were more likely to do so, and that they were highly influential on the behavior of their network partners. The abolition movement affected an increase in the magnitude of social influence, and shifted the balance of influence in favor of non-slavers.

Lecture Videos

Why Nations Fail by James Robinson

James Robinson, Harvard University, discussed his recent book Why Nations Fail on September 28, 2012 as part of the 2012-13 CSES Lecture Series. In this lecture, Prof. Robinson answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine? Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are? Simply, no. None of these factors is either definitive or destiny. Otherwise, how to explain why Botswana has become one of the fastest-growing countries in the world, while other African nations, such as Zimbabwe, the Congo, and Sierra Leone, are mired in poverty and violence? Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or the lack of it).

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“Actors do not behave or decide as atoms outside a social context ... Their attempts at purposive action are instead embedded in concrete, ongoing systems of social relations.”— Mark Granovetter