Discussion paper

DP12388 Was Domar Right? Serfdom and Factor Endowments in Bohemia

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.


Ogilvie, S and A Klein (2017), ‘DP12388 Was Domar Right? Serfdom and Factor Endowments in Bohemia‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 12388. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp12388