Monday, July 6, 2009

The Causes of Serfdom (and Slavery)

In 1970 Evsey Domar wrote a piece titled "The causes of slavery and serfdom: a hypothesis" in the Journal of Economic History. It was mainly an analysis of the Russian "second serfdom" of the XVIth and XVIIth centuries, and the explanation revived an older hypothesis of historians about the causal role of the land/labor ratio.

Domar however was unsatisfied with his theory and further explained that a political factor was at play in the establishment of serfdom (and slavery). Recently Paul Krugman concurred ("Serfs up!" The Unofficial Paul Krugman Home Page, May 8, 2003) and concluded that the puzzle remained unsolved and that serfdom still was a phenomenon in search of an explanation.

I just tried to formulate a general explanation of the occurrence of serfdom in various places and periods, showing that the land/labor ratio, as plausible as it seems as an explanation, is but a small part of the story. As a by-product, I show that the determinants of slavery differ in an important way from those of serfdom, and that freedom depends on the same type of variables, but with opposite signs of course.

My paper is currently available in the Social Science Research Network (SSRN eLibrary), at .

It will also be accessible shortly on my website (

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