Fogel and Engerman's self-conscious application of economic theory to historical data is extremely useful in clarifying the market relationships operative in the antebellum Southern economy. What is missing in their study is an appreciation of the explanatory limits of the theory they have employed. They have paid a high price in attempting to stretch the capabilities of neoclassical theory into domains beyond its scope. In particular this takes the form of an implicit assumption that if market efficiency is attained, modernization is within reach.
There is, on the contrary, no necessary correlation between efficiency defined in this market sense, and long-term strength, growth, or prosperity. Precisely because of the means employed within the plantation economy to achieve viability, there are serious questions which can be raised with respect to both the longevity of the slave system and the consistency of that system with development, and hence an increasing standard of living for its population. In analyzing the internal mechanism by which the slave system worked, Fogel and Engerman interjected issues for which they offered neither testable hypotheses nor employed the relevant methodological framework.