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Democracy Under the Tsars? The Case of the Zemstvo

The emancipation of the serfs is often viewed as watershed moment in 19th-century Russian history. However, this reform was accompanied by numerous others measures aimed at modernizing the Tsarist economy and society. Among these "Great Reforms" was the creation of a new institution of local government - the zemstvo - which has received comparatively little attention from economic historians. This quasi-democratic form of local government played a large role in expanding the provision of public goods and services in the half century leading up to the Russian Revolution. In this paper, I draw on newly collected data from several years of spending and revenue decisions by district zemstva. These data are matched to information on local socio-economic conditions to produce one of the first (panel) datasets with broad geographic coverage on any topic in Russian economic history. I use this dataset to investigate how population characteristics, local economic conditions, and mandated peasant representation in the zemstva influenced funding decisions over public goods. Through their representation in this local political institution, were peasants able to voice their preferences over spending levels and funding for specific initiatives? I find that district zemstvo with greater political representation from the peasantry spent more per capita, especially on education. This study initiates a broader research agenda into the zemstvo's place in Russian economic history and contributes to the literature on the political economy of public good provision in developing societies.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, Williams College in its series Department of Economics Working Papers with number 2008-23.

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Length: 63 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2008
Date of revision:
Publication status: Forthcoming in European Review of Economic History
Handle: RePEc:wil:wileco:2008-23
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