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The Economic Effects of the Abolition of Serfdom: Evidence from the Russian Empire

Andrei Markevich () and Ekaterina Zhuravskaya ()

No w0237, Working Papers from Center for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR)

Abstract: We document very large increases in agricultural productivity, peasants’ living standards, and industrial development in Imperial Russia as a result of the abolition of serfdom in 1861. A counterfactual exercise suggests that if serfs were freed in 1820, by 1913 Russia would have been about 50% richer compared to what it actually was. We construct a novel province-level panel dataset of development outcomes and conduct a difference-in-differences analysis of the effects of the abolition of serfdom, relying on cross-sectional variation in the shares of serfs and the timing of the different stages of reform, controlling for unobserved variation across provinces and over time and province-specific trends. We disentangle the two stages of the abolition of serfdom: the emancipation of serfs and land reform, and find that, in contrast to a large positive effect of emancipation, land reform negatively affected agricultural productivity. We provide evidence that better incentives resulting from the cessation of the ratchet effect in the landlordpeasant relationship is a likely mechanism behind the positive effect of emancipation, and the increase in the power of the re-partition peasant commune is a mechanism behind the negative effect of the land reform.

New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-his
Date: 2017-01
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