Convicts account for at least one-quarter of British migration to mid-eighteenth-century America. Their transportation to and disposal in America was essentially an experiment in privatizing post-trial criminal justice. A model of this trade is developed that yields testable implications regarding the relative distributional moments of convict auction prices, the size of shipper profits, and how convicts were selected for transportation. Quantitative evidence is assembled to test these implications and to measure the labor value of criminality. The results support the model and are used to explain the political economy of British penal policy.
“…this Exporting of Felons to the Colonies … implies returns. … There can be no Trade without them. And Rattle-Snakes seem the most suitable Returns for the Human Serpents sent us by our Mother Country.”Benjamin Franklin, 1751
“Sir, they [the Americans] are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging.”Samuel Johnson, 1769