Peasant communes and factor markets in late nineteenth-century Russia
The peasant land commune was the emblematic institutional feature of agrarian Russian society before the Revolution of 1917. Economic historians have long blamed the commune for restricting household behavior in ways that contributed to Russia's economic "backwardness" by the late 19th century. Drawing on new household-level data collected from archival sources in Moscow province, this article provides the first microeconomic analysis of local factor markets and household behavior within the institutional context of the Russian peasant commune. The empirical evidence indicates that peasant households did have substantial flexibility when it came to allocating their land and labor holdings. In response to mortality shocks or lags in the communal adjustment of land, households engaged in land rentals and off-farm labor market transactions to improve upon suboptimal factor endowments. Although these findings do not imply that the resulting allocation of resources was fully efficient, they do illustrate how peasants made rational factor market transactions in a seemingly inhospitable institutional environment.
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