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Did Ivan's vote matter? The political economy of local democracy in Tsarist Russia

Steven Nafziger ()

European Review of Economic History, 2011, vol. 15, issue 3, 393-441

Abstract: Russia's emancipation of the serfs was accompanied by numerous other measures aimed at modernizing the Tsarist economy and society. Among these ‘Great Reforms’ was the creation of a new institution of local government – the zemstvo – which has received comparatively little attention from economic historians. This quasi-democratic form of local government played an important role in expanding the provision of public goods and services in the half-century leading up to the Russian Revolution. This article utilizes archival records and contemporary evidence to outline the zemstvo's role in Russian society and describe its political structure. The article then presents a newly collected panel data set that includes information on the allocation of political rights within the zemstvo, spending and revenue decisions by district zemstva, and a variety of other socio-economic indicators. With these data, I explore whether the electoral structure of the zemstvo allowed the newly emancipated peasantry to voice their preferences over spending levels and tax rates. I find that the district zemstvo with greater political representation from the peasantry shifted taxes away from communal property and spent more per capita, especially on education. However, these effects did not derive from a direct voting mechanism but most likely arose out of the interaction between peasant representation and more liberal elements of the noble class. This study initiates a broader research agenda into the zemstvo's place in Russian economic history and contributes to the literature on the political economy of public good provision in developing societies.

Date: 2011
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Handle: RePEc:cup:ereveh:v:15:y:2011:i:03:p:393-441_00