Economic Effects of the Abolition of Serfdom: Evidence from the Russian Empire
We document a very large increase in agricultural productivity, peasants' living standards, and industrial development in the 19th century Imperial Russia as a result of the abolition of serfdom. We construct a novel province-level panel dataset of development outcomes and conduct a difference-in-differences analysis relying on cross-sectional variation in the shares of serfs and over-time variation in emancipation controlling for region-specific trends. We disentangle the effects of the emancipation and the subsequent land reform and show that land reform contributed negatively to agricultural productivity in contrast to a large positive effect of the emancipation. The evidence is consistent with the increase in the power of the peasant commune as the channel of the negative effect of the land reform. The different organizational forms of serfdom were associated with different levels of nutrition of serfs and productivity. The emancipation of serfs from estates where serfs were obliged to work on the landlord's farm (corvee, barshchina) caused an increase in height of their children by 1.6 centimeters. Estates where serfs were required to make in kind payment to the landlord (quitrent, obrok) were equally productive, but, in contrast, their emancipation did not lead to rise in their height. Commitment to an implicit longer-term contract on the amount of serf obligations to landlords, practiced in some estates, made serfdom more productive.
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