Bonded Labor and Serfdom: A Paradox of Voluntary Choice

39 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2001

See all articles by Garance Genicot

Garance Genicot

Georgetown University - Department of Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 2001


Among the oldest and most pervasive economic institutions are bonded labor and serfdom. While seemingly exploitative, both bonded labor and serfdom are often not imposed on the laborers but voluntarily chosen. It is generally the lack of suitable alternatives which makes workers opt for a life in servitude. This paper shows that the existence of these voluntary forms of servitude itself may restrain the laborers' opportunities so that they are left with no better alternative than bondage. Under these circumstances, government interventions banning servile institutions, by promoting the development of alternative options for the laborers, have the potential to substantially improve the condition of a large class of laborers.

Keywords: implicit contract, bonded labor, interlinkage, credit, coercion

JEL Classification: D40, C72, O10, J41, K31

Suggested Citation

Genicot, Garance, Bonded Labor and Serfdom: A Paradox of Voluntary Choice (March 2001). Available at SSRN: or

Garance Genicot (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - Department of Economics ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States
202-687-7144 (Phone)
202-687-6102 (Fax)


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics