The Causes of Serfdom: Domar's Puzzle Revisited

39 Pages Posted: 7 May 2011

Date Written: May 2, 2011


Domar (1970) has singled out the land/labor ratio as the main cause of both slavery and serfdom. But he then recognizes that scarcity of labor is necessary but not sufficient for serfdom to exist, and that an exogenous political factor is required to determine the status of labor.

I show that in an agrarian subsistence economy the complementary conditions of serfdom are (a) oligopsony power in labor demand, sustained by (b) an oligopolistic supply of violence by large landowners.

These organizational conditions explain historical episodes that Domar accounted for, those he left unexplained, and imply that serfdom and slavery are mutually exclusive.

Keywords: Oligopsony, rents, price elasticity, cartels, slavery, serfdom

JEL Classification: P26, P48, P23, J42

Suggested Citation

Rosa, Jean-Jacques, The Causes of Serfdom: Domar's Puzzle Revisited (May 2, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Jean-Jacques Rosa (Contact Author)

Sciences Po Paris ( email )

3 avenue Ingres
Paris, 75016

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