Proposal preview

The Causes and Effects of Labor Coercion in Global Perspective

For most of history, the majority of labor relations have been coercive. Labor coercion has taken commonly known forms of slavery, serfdom, and indentured servitude, among others. While the degree of coercion varies, motives for adoption and abolition might in fact be very similar across institutions. The literature discusses driving forces such as changes in the supply of labor (Domar, 1970; Brenner, 1976), the related changes in the availability of outside options (Acemoglu and Wolitzky,2011; Ogilvie and Carus, 2014), and changes in the distribution of political power (Acemoglu and Robinson, 2000).
This session will discuss the economic and institutional aspects of labor coercion across the world. Recently, the rise and fall of labor coercion has been discussed in the framework of new institutional economics using a quantitative approach, also due to the availability of new data and new estimation techniques. The session will draw parallels between case-studies identifying the main economic and institutional aspects that characterized the different experiences of labor coercion around the world for different historical periods.
The gradual dismissal of serfdom in Western Europe from the late Middle Age and the rise of serfdom in Eastern Europe (the so-called “second serfdom”) is at the center of the so-called Brenner debate that will be picked up in this session when discussing the rise of serfdom in Russia and Bohemia. In similar fashion, the adoption of slavery in Egypt will allow to draw parallels across regions and labor institutions. Other contributions will discuss the reasons for the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean and serfdom in Prussia. A third group of contributions will discuss the consequences of the abolition of serfdom in Russia and Denmark.
Given the wide geographic coverage of the contributions, it is the aim of this session to draw some general conclusions on the formation, existence, and abolition of the institutions of labor coercion.


  • Francesco Cinnirella, ifo Institute,, Germany
  • Erik Hornung, University of Bayreuth,, Germany

Session members

  • Christian Dippel , UCLA Anderson School of Management,
  • Erik Hornung, University of Bayreuth,
  • Alexander Klein, University of Kent,
  • Andrei Markevich , New Economic School,
  • Andrea Matranga , New Economic School,
  • Steven Nafziger , Williams College,
  • Mohammed Saleh , Toulouse School of Economics,
  • Paul Sharp, University of Southern Denmark,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Noam Yuchtman, UC-Berkeley, Haas School of Business,