The long-run consequences of Russian serfdom

They are not good, as evidenced by a new paper by Buggle and Nafziger (pdf):

This paper examines the long-run consequences of serfdom in the countries of the former Russian Empire. We combine novel data measuring the intensity of labor coercion on the district level in 1861 with several intermediate and present-day outcomes. Our results show that past serfdom goes along with lower economic well-being today. We apply an instrumental variable strategy that exploits the transfer of serfs on monastic lands in 1764 to establish a causal link between past serfdom and current economic development. Tracking the evolution of city populations throughout Soviet times corroborates the finding of persistent economic differences. Furthermore, our results suggest a political economy mechanisms linking higher historical economic inequality with worse public goods provision (roads and education), as well as lower urbanization and structural change towards factory production, as explanation for this persistence. We do not find differences in contemporaneous cultural attitudes and preferences.

The pointer is from Pseudoerasmus.


Just a couple of different words, and the conclusion remains valid -

'This paper examines the long-run consequences of slavery in the states of the former CSA. We combine novel data measuring the intensity of labor coercion on the district level in 1861 with several intermediate and present-day outcomes. Our results show that past slavery goes along with lower economic well-being today.'

Just an any libertarian would expect, of course.

'Just as any....'

So negative reparations? Where are you going with this?

That enslaved/enserfed labor leads to poorer economic results than free labor. Just another real life confirmation of libertarian orthodoxy, I would have thought.

I think the free market orthodoxy would be that slavery is inefficient and unprofitable as soon as somebody invents the harvester.

Why only the CSA? Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware don't exist?

Because much like the Russian Empire, the CSA was a coherent political unit based on the explicit owning of human labor as property. The United States, including the slave owning parts that did not secede, rejected slavery after destroying the CSA. And three of the four can be considered better off than a typical southern former slave state, while the fourth is more or less considered part of the south anyways - and is not notably well off.

The CSA only existed for a few years of total war, I don't see why you attribute any significance to the CSA per se

Such a paper already exists !

Except that unlike the Buggle-Nafziger paper the Nunn paper does not find support for the Engerman-Sokoloff mechanism (land inequality).

Nunn? As in GM John Nunn, a chess writer and composer? Also if these findings are correct you should find that American slaver states in the American South have lower than average GDP even today, relative to free states in the North.

BTW they found persistence in child poverty in Potosi, Bolivia from the Spanish conquistador silver mines, even today. I speculate one physical reason might be lead poisoning, since Pb and Au are often found together in mining. The heavy hand of history as Fernand Braudel of the French Annales School would say.

See, the internet does make you smarter!

At least the lowly Russian serfs were allowed to exist, unlike the American natives who were pretty much exterminated. We can directly observe the results of genocide based on race by simply driving through the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

Natives were doing a fine job enslaving and exterminating each other well before the Mayflower.

I once read a tribal history written by the chief of the band that now lives near Tofino in BC. In the first few chapters he relates how they were an inland people that eventually killed or drive off 10,000 members of a coastal tribe, even chasing them as far as the Olympic Peninsula in the U.S. to kill anyone who might try and return.

They call the thumb of land on which Tofino sits Esowista, which means Clubbed to Death.

What was unique about the invading Westen culture is that it came to see slavery, oppression and permanent warfare as immoral.

The problem with so many people today is that they want to pretend the west was uniquely savage and then ignore that the West was in fact uniquely progressive.

It says something when people justify the extermination of the indigenous Americans by claiming that they did many of the same things. Well, duh, they were Neolithics, the European invaders claimed to be more "civilized" but in reality they were simply equipped with more advanced weapons and a never-ending supply of immigrants to take over the property of others. The same people that think it was OK to drop nuclear weapons on Japanese teen-age girls walking to school in August, 1945 think it was also just peachy to kill natives on their own land and coop the survivors up in prison camps. This was rectified by giving natives citizenship in their own country in 1924. Ex-slaves became citizens in 1868.

I've read about tribes that developed the bow and arrow and then wiped out other tribes.

Noble Savage myth wants to exist in some minds, but if man is equal, we are probably equally murderous.

If you were to just bet off actual beliefs, and not historical empiric data, I would bet that religious and communist regimes would be very peaceful. Ooops.

They did extermination as well. 90% of the indigenous population of Siberia and the Far East according to Government records.

We can directly observe the results of genocide based on race by simply driving through the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

No, you can directly observe the results of alcoholism.

And the only genocide is in your poisonous imagination.

If Obama's Kenyan ancestors were slaves, he'd never be President. Yeah, right.

Liberal policies since 1933 caused more actual harm to today's blacks than the horrid institution that ceased 150 years ago.

That also validates the liberal commandment that no one has personal responsibility for anything, except a white Republican.

It's one of the lies (politics are coercion and deceit) employed to take money from one citizen group and hand it over to another group.

The rest of us are "chopped liver". Ask that idiot, Dem (repetitive) MD governor, who said, "All lives matter." He was shut down really quickly. For Dems, only black and Muslim lives matter.

Keep calm and carry on.

Liberal policies since 1933 caused more actual harm to today’s blacks than the horrid institution that ceased 150 years ago.

I bet you're one of those dbags who never has the balls to say something like this in public, much less to an actual black person, but have the internet courage so awful, dbaggy things on MR when youre not on Stormfront or Vdare.

Just to remind you, a presidential candidate said "all lives matter" and was reproached by the black activists.

If you just replace black with white, its uncanny how close it is to white supremacy.

"white lives matter" don't be telling us that any mongrel lives are the same. They are not.

Yes, its a weird "supremacy" based on victimhood as the ultimate trump, but its there nonetheless.

There is a ton of reading material out there where black activists explain why they are against "all lives matter." If you choose to educate yourself, I will let you go and read it. The point is that "all lives matter" takes away from the belief that blacks are disproportionately targeted by the police and treated worse.

On the other hand, much of the evidence shows the welfare state unambiguously has improved the lives of blacks. Poor blacks in liberal states have beter educational attainment and health indicators than poor blacks in conservative states.

Were these earnest truth-seekers able to account for the interim deaths of millions (including members of the former aristocracy, non-left intelligentsia, engineers and technicians, kulaks, et al.)? Surely historical outcomes could well have differed had only a few million here or there not been murdered so helpfully by the Bolshevik state.
Wasn't mass murder a socialist tool for helping to implement political, social, and economic equality? Perhaps THAT effort is what failed so spectacularly.

This could be also considered a long-run consequence of russian serfdom.

You mean Russian socialism failed because of the historical legacy of Russian serfdom? Those lying Bolsheviks!

Russian socialism was a historical legacy of russian serfdom.

Those lying Bolsheviks!

Millions of serfs also died being transported to open up the south and east. Almost all the characteristics that people ascribe to the legacy of communism were already present in imperial Russia.

Rural residents remained effectively bound to the land through Soviet times except by special permission. Those who received it had low, fragile status in the town or city. My wife's grandmother managed to receive such rare permission, to serve as nanny for an apparatchik.

Were they bound to a fixed place, or were they "merely" prevented from living in cities. The latter is still a lot better than the former. Modern China has such a system, and so did England during its escape from the middle-ages.

So Russia in the 20th century was as culturally developed as England in the 14th? Sounds about right.

Not "through Soviet times" but "until 1974".

@Adrian - To a fixed place.

@DK - Kolkhozniks gained some freedoms with the issuance of internal "passports" to them in the late 1970s, but the "propiska" system continued to prevent them moving their residence until authorities stopped enforcing it, which didn't happen overnight but roughly coincided with the split of the USSR.

My point is, the authors are basing their conclusions about the effects of serfdom long after it ended on an assumption that unfree labor ended with serfdom.

The reality for most serfs was more like a US slave transitioning to sharecropper, but unable to migrate away. Then what little progress was made towards free labor (varied by location) was reversed with Sovietization. For the typical serf and his descendants between the 1860s and 1980s, there was more continuity than disruption in their labor relations with their masters. The areas that made the most progress towards free labor in the late Czarist era faced the most brutal reversal in the early Soviet era.

By way of example, the murder of the Kulaks surely had a large negative effect.

Oh so only for ~80% of the Soviet Union's existence.

Lower provision of public goods like roads and education make for worse economic outcomes? Who would have guessed? (Most people from GMU?)


In case you have not noticed, building actual infrastructure while supposedly supported in theory by the Left actually never gets done. If its not keystone XL or Yucca Mountain, its delayed for decades by environmental lawsuits.

Example: California passed bonds measures for urgently needed water infrastructure.

Not being built yet.

So the storms will come and little will be saved for dry years.

It would be interesting to see something academic that discussed-ranked the types of liberty restrictions that existed 200 plus years ago. Slavery gets lots of attention - but the norm for most of the 99% was some form of bound service. Serfs - impressed seamen [read the stories about the seal hunters being "dropped of" for a year or more - and often never retrieved]. Apprentices were often treated as bad or worse than slaves - and could be prevented from advancing for years.

I am not sure I am comfortable finding causality after multiple generations - to much a believer in free will I guess.

"too much a believer in free will I guess": but the question isn't whether you believe in free will, it's whether the ex-serfs and their descendants do.

"ex-serfs and their descendants" Isn't that pretty much everybody?

I'm not descended from Russian serfs. Of course it's commoner in the US but surely "pretty much everybody" is an exaggeration?

Not Russian, but serfs.

Lonely Libertarian's remark did not seem to be specifically about Russians.

Whose free will?

People have free will, and use it to make a bunch of decisions about how to react to their enivornment. They shape their environment too, but so do all the other millions of people in their societies. The result is that patterns of behaviour, and social norms and legal rules emerge.

Joe Stalin and is mates might have tried to shape all that stuff through the excercise of their personal free wills. They might even have succeeded a bit. Your common peasant had a more constrained domain in which to excercise his freedom.

H-1B visas and serfdom go together like bread and butter, eh?

When a JAMC comment is deleted, the comments downstream of it should be deleted too, otherwise they make no sense without the context.

Asia had an interesting intellectual tradition: "the Confucian examination system with which the Son of Heaven's empire was staffed with civil servants over the best part of two millennia"

The Russian serfs didn't have that, and seem to have dug in their heels in an anti-intellectual way. American deniers of science beware.

1) the self-proclaimed intelligentsia seizing control of the Russian state from backwards feudal authorities was a pretty significant event. You may have heard about it. How did that work out, anyway?

2) to the extent that at any point in the past hundred years, or even the last twenty, that one would prefer to be a Chinaman than a Russian, it is in no way clear that "anti-intellectualism" had anything to do with it.

1) Not working out too well for use either.

an "intelligentsia" is a bit opposite of an educated population. in fact it is hard to have one when you have the other.

I really don't know what you're trying to say about Asia/China. This exact same study probably could have been done in China and gotten the same results, complete with confounding urbanization.

"the Confucian examination system"

Was often gamed. Some famous scholar failed the test several times until his family bribed the examiners.

Really, its not as amazing as it sounds.

Imagine it is similar to Ivy League now in America.

The most famous Russian writer was black, and he had white slaves. How about that?

Tolstoy was black?

Regarding Pushkin, the average English-speaker is almost certainly more likely to know that one of his ancestors was an African than to be able to even name a single one of his works, a fact I find rather fascinating.

Pushkin was black by an American criterion. In Russia I suspect he was just a chap with an exotic ancestor.

I have to go with IAG on this one. As far as I can tell from the published records, Pushkin's mom (clearly of Abyssinian descent) was considered as white as, say, Ricky Ricardo or Jamie Farr or Cher or Elizabeth Taylor playing Cleopatra, because she was a well-behaved female aristocrat. On the other hand, the person whom we call the poet Pushkin, a great poet who would have been an even greater poet without his aversion to ignoring his own lustful desires, was often unfairly mocked for his African roots by his fellow Russian aristocrats and the urban elite of his day, not necessarily on racist grounds but on anti-libertine grounds, in a way that his Abyssinian mother never experienced. I am not sure if I can cite to translated English letters and memoirs to support this, but anyone familiar with the published zolotoy fond (Golden mine - Russians like to give nice names to their archival collections) of contemporary references to Pushkin will likely agree with me. Also, there are few Russians who can take seriously anyone who considers Count Tolstoy greater than Pushkin. The comparison is sort of like Shakespeare (Pushkin) (earthy lord of words) to Milton (Tolstoy) (well educated guy who is good with words). Sure both still sell a lot of books but Shakespeare and Pushkin are really not supposed to be mentioned in the same breath as Milton and Tolstoy.

Also Shakespeare, like Pushkin, had four grandparents sharing only three last names - Shakespeare Arden Webb Webb (stress on first syllable in each case); Gannibal Chicherin Pushkin Pushkin (stress on last syllable, middle syllable, first syllable, first syllable). Finally, Pushkin, with regard to his African heritage, was able to show unencumbered pride, whereas Shakespeare, bright as he was, lived in a more suppressive regime, and we will never know what he would have said of his Catholic relatives if he thought he might not have been hunted down for being too supportive of them. Sadly, we have no Shakespearean equivalent to "moyaw rodloviye" or "arap petra pervovo".

I'd submit that nobody would have mocked Pushkin's ancestry if he'd been even remotely well-behaved. I am aware, intellectually, that Pushkin is the Russian Shakespeare, but I've never read more than a few short poems and I've often been told that he loses far more in translation than the Russian prose writers (who are certainly more known and read in English). Anyway: I won't get around to it anytime soon, but do you have any recommendations for Pushkin in English? I don't plan on ever learning Russian.

iuvenalis - Pushkin translates as well as Goethe or Homer, but what does not translate is the fact that his Russian mastery was so new and unprecedented - as if Shakespeare wrote with no Chaucer or Spenser before him. I would suggest the following: get three or four different Eugene Onegin translations from the library, for one through eight read the first four or five stanzas (don't worry about the plot). After you have spent no more than twenty or so minutes doing this, choose the most congenial translated version (to you, who have already developed your own preferences) and read six seven eight, maybe even five. Every published translation has its positives and its negatives - Falen gets the most praise these days, but several others, including Deutsch and Nabokov (another well-educated Russian who was good with words and who, like Tolstoy in his better moments, cheerfully realized he was no Pushkin) understood pretty well what Pushkin would have been trying to get at if he were born speaking English. Do not spend more than twenty minutes at a time reading Pushkin translations, no more than you would spend more than twenty minutes listening to Chopin's short works. If nothing else, reading the translations will be a good experience with the possibilities of English words. Aside from Eugene Onegin, there are about forty love poems that are frequently translated: read a few, and decide which speaks to you best. There are several religious poems which translate well, also, those are good. Don't expect much from the epigrams, most of which are based on untranslatable puns. The best prose, in translation, is a matter of taste: I incline to the first few pages of Dubrovsky, the first pages of each of the Tales of Belkin, and the sublime Metel' (The Snowstorm). Thanks to the hard work of many translators, in about two hours of reading, repeated once or twice, you should be able to get a good idea of Pushkin without ever learning a word of Russian.

Thanks. FWIW, I've saved your comment onto my computer. Hopefully I get around to it someday.

Take away the the Econ-Speak & this is stuff my history profs were telling us in the 70’s. Moreover, they had the good sense to add in the negative economic consequences of murdering the Kulaks & collectivizing the farms.

Oh, I should probably stay out of this, but a number of odd things being said.

First off the findings of this study, which do indeed show long historical residual path dependence effects of serfdom from well before the revolution, has nothing to do with collectivization or the murdering of kulaks. Those were very damaging to the areas they happened in (well, collectivization pretty much happened everywhere, but dekulakization was much more intense in Ukraine). But the variation of intensity of that I do not think is correlated with the intensity of earlier serfdom. So, while those things were bad, they do not affect (or probably not) the impact of earlier serfdom. They are, in fact, for this study,irrelevant.

There has also been a substantial overstatement about how restricted rural people were from moving to cities, although indeed they in general only got proper propiskas in 1974, and restrictions remained in place until 1991, indeed, for Moscow in particular and St. Pete less so, there continue to be restrictions on immigration, generally run through the housing market, with people needing to get housing before they can do anything else in one of the primate cities (and Putin has moved to reintroducing more of this sort of thing).

But, the fact is that there was massive urbanization in Russsia during the Soviet period, going from 17% in 1926 to 34% in 1939 to 52% in 1959 to 73% in 1989, with that still the number in 2002, a warning that the reduction of movement restrictions coincided with a virtual halt to rural to urban migration.

Now, much of that migration was forced, farm managers shipping off excess workers to cities to fulfill the need for workers during the rapid industrialization buildup (after 1932 anyway, between 1917 and then there was free movement, with propiskas and restriction existing before that and dating back to Peter the Great). Many of these people were sent to undesirable mono-industry cities scattered around Russia (USSR) in an inefficient manner.

The serious restrictions were on moving to the primate cities of Moscow and Leningrad/St. Petersburg, and there has long been a big game about people trying to get to those cities through job appointments, higher education, and marriage, the latter long a subject of soap opera movies, such a "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears" of the early 1980s. This is much more complicated than has been discussed here so far.

Definitely the story's very complicated. But since the study sets out to investigate whether the unfree labor that existed till the 1860s has continuing effects today, then it is absolutely relevant that labor actually continued to be unfree. What I said was, the intensity of early Soviet reversal to unfreer labor correlated with the late Czarist progress to freer labor.

The paper starts out very promising, sounding like it's going to distinguish precisely between serfs and other types of freer peasants. But actually it doesn't do that. It merely counts the serfs in a district against the district's population, So the areas counted as low in serfs are largely more urbanized areas. Without controlling for urbanization, the results don't show what they purport to show; they seem to mainly show that areas that were more urbanized in the 1860s were more likely to further urbanize.

Re: restrictions on internal migration, voluntary relocation was difficult across the union, but especially for kolkhozniks. As a rule, you had to get a job before you could apply to move, and the main window for that was through training programs and higher education, which few kolkhoznik kids got into. Kolkhozniks until the late 1970s faced a special obstacle of needing to first get an internal passport.

The intensity of serfdom is not necessarily tied to the intensity of the reversal of serfdom afterwards. Hence, there is no correlation between that earlier intensity of serfdom and the effective reversion to it during collectivization. Indeed, I suspect quite the opposite was the case, showing the strength of path dependence and how that worked. Those places that were the most intensely serfed undid it the least and had the most repressive post serf policies. This is more or less how it worked in the US Deep South.

I agree that the Kolkhozniki had the worst for internal migration, with even the Sovkhozniki doing better. The latter also had less serf-like relations, being actual wage earners, and their areas were probably those that had gotten de-serfed the most after 1860, which would fit with my observation in the first paragraph and would be consistent with the results in the paper.

I know only bits of pieces of how serfdom vs freer peasants mapped out across the empire, but I know there were plenty of serfs in some of the same areas of Ukraine that were hardest hit in the famine. I think Ukraine and southern Russia had large concentrations of freer peasants by 1917 and that partly explains why they most strongly opposed the Bolsheviks and were most brutally crushed in the famine.

Ok, great. So, reparations for descendants of US slaves?

sad that the question is meant to be divisive, and not constructive

I'm curious as to how this would work in practice. Would you be entitled to a certain share depending on how many of your g-g-g-grandparetns were enslaved? Or is it a "one drop" deal - prove a single slave ancestor, and you get a share? What about people who don't have family records going back that far (recordkeeping in the 19th century rural South not being what you'd call immaculate)? Or is it just based on how you self-identified in the latest census?

Reparations for descendants of Russian serfs, paid by Finns and Balts. I'd like to get a slice, due to me being somewhere under 25% former serf :-).

Don't feel bad about posting, that was an interesting comment, although you left out what happened in 1920 and the obvious non-stochastic results. Taking that into account would make this much more complicated than has been discussed here so far, and likely more complicated than you can imagine. Two hints - Lambeth (on a slightly different but allied topic) and Reagan's worst day as a governor.

The 9:55 post was a reply to Barkley Rosser.

As with my comments about dekulakization and so on, I do not think there is any correlation between where problems during War Communism and intense serfdom was. Not relevant basically, although certainly a further complication given that things were much worse then than many know about.

Your observations are probably accurate and well informed (as a fluent Russian speaker and grandson of a talented NCO in the czar's army, I can confidently say that most Russian speakers are unfamiliar with the facts you are discussing), but my point was that 1920 was a different sort of what can be called a negative climacteric than had been seen in Western Civilization since the evil days of the Roman Empire. What happened then legally (and more) confused hereditary assumptions in a new way, and all one can truthfully and accurately say anymore is obviously limited by the fact that Gott lat sikj nich spotte (nietzsche's least favorite verse, poor soul). If we are discussing heredity here, we can't forget the 1920 hubris of the Bolsheviks, or Lambeth, or Reagan's worst day as governor

The paper itself provides the answer about the distribution of serfdom. While there were lots of local variations, the predominant relation is that serfdom was higher nearer Moscow, reflecting a historical pattern of serfdom being imposed as control from Moscow expanded historically.

So, Ukraine was not the most heavily enserfed region. This is not linked to collectivization or dekulakization particularly, the latter more likely in the high yielding chernozem zones.

Funny addition is that they find weaker urbanization in the more enserfed zones, although Moscow itself is clearly an exception to that, despite it being at the very center of the most heavily enserfed zone.

I asked my Russian-born wife about this paper, which I note does say that the observation that serfdom existed in declining "concentric circles" around Moscow was an old saw of Soviet/Russian history, that indeed she had heard that when young and in school in the then Soviet Union. It is indeed almost a cliche of traditional Russian/Soviet historical economic geography that this was the case and that it negatively impacted economic performance, at least in the tsarist period after the ending of serfdom, if not later. What is interesting in this paper is showing that this old well-known effect appears to still persist. But, my wife is not surprised in the least.

The economic backwardness of Tsarist Russia has longed been blamed on absent or poorly functioning institutions: weak corporate law , the inefficiencies of communal land tenure, and the limited responsiveness of the political system, just to name a few. Perhaps most famously, numerous scholars have emphasized the negative implications of serfdom a coercive system of labor control similar in some ways to American slavery for Russian economic development from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Proposed mechanisms have included limitations on the mobility of serf labor, laws against serfs engaging in certain types of economic activity, restrictions on serf property ownership, prohibitions on formal schooling among serfs, and incentive effects and dead weight losses implied by different types of seigniorial obligations. In sum, these factors have been viewed as contributing towards the slow pace of agricultural growth and industrial expansion in Russia prior to serf emancipation in 1861.

All That?

Emmanuel Todd anyone?

This is a plausible hypothesis, but the last sentence in the abstract, "We do not find differences in contemporaneous cultural attitudes and preferences.", casts doubt on the mechanism of the correlation.

It suggests that maybe serfdom prevailed in places that had resources, physical and human alike, that were ill suited to economic development in the first place. It also brings to mind an April 2010 observation about Oklahoma's state motto:

“We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!”

That makes you something like serfs, yes?"

- Barbara O'Brien (the blogger, not the politician) at Mahablog


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