School of Economics

2017 Discussion papers

School of Economics Discussion Paper 17/17

Was Domar Right? Serfdom and Factor
Endowments in Bohemia

Alexander Klein, University of Kent
Sheilagh Ogilvie, University of Cambridge

October 2017


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.

JEL Classification: J47; N33; O43; P48

Keywords: serfdom; land-labor ratio; institutions; labor coercion; rural-urban interaction

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Last Updated: 06/11/2017