DP12388 Was Domar Right? Serfdom and Factor Endowments in Bohemia

Author(s): Alex Klein, Sheilagh C. Ogilvie
Publication Date: October 2017
Keyword(s): institutions, Labor coercion, land-labor ratio, rural-urban interaction, serfdom
JEL(s): J47, N33, O43, P48
Programme Areas: Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=12388

Do factor endowments explain serfdom? Domar (1970) conjectured that high land-labor ratios caused serfdom by increasing incentives to coerce labor. But historical evidence is mixed and quantitative analyses are lacking. Using the Acemoglu-Wolitzky (2011) framework and controlling for political economy variables by studying a specific serf society, we analyze 11,349 Bohemian serf villages in 1757. The net effect of higher land-labor ratios was indeed to increase coercion. The effect greatly increased when animal labor was included, and diminished as land-labor ratios rose. Controlling for other variables, factor endowments significantly influenced serfdom. Institutions, we conclude, are shaped partly by economic fundamentals.