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This paper examines the management control-system design of mid-19th century U.S. slave plantations using a contingency theory framework. Large rice plantations that relied on forced labor and tidal-flow agricultural technology were very profitable for their owners. This paper presents a model that links these favorable operating results to a close fit between the control-system design and three key contingent environmental variables. Absentee owners hired managers to provide on-site oversight and periodic operational reporting. These managers relied on slave drivers to assign individualized daily tasks to the plantation's field hands and monitor their performance. Productive field slaves were rewarded with greater free time each working day. In addition, many slaves worked cooperatively with their masters to obtain better jobs outside the rice fields and cash income. Ultimately, however, it was the institution of chattel slavery that kept the slaves working in the rice fields under oppressive and unhealthy conditions.



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