Domar serfdom model

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The Domar serfdom model is an economic model, first presented by the Russian economist Evsey Domar in 1970, which seeks to explain why some historical societies adopted slavery or serfdom while others relied on free labor markets. Domar first presented the model in his paper "The causes of slavery or serfdom: a hypothesis", in the journal Economic History Review. Domar's model is based on a hypothesis advanced by the 19th century Russian historian Vasily Klyuchevsky and is in some ways a generalization of his ideas.

A key variable in Domar's analysis is the land-labor ratio. According to the model a high land-labor ratio would normally entail competition among landlords for workers, which would in turn drive up the wage rate and lower land rents. On the other hand, if land-labor ratio is low then the price of labor would be close to the subsistence level that would have to be paid by landlords even to their slaves or serfs. As a result, only if the land-labor ratio is high do landlords have a significant economic incentive to organize themselves politically and force the institutions of serfdom or outright slavery on the laborers. A missing element of Domar's analysis is exactly how this kind of political organization comes about.

According to Domar, the model explains why serfdom disappeared on its own in Western Europe by the 13th century, why it emerged in Russia in the 16th century (as more land became available driving up workers wages), and why slavery became the dominant economic arrangement in the American South prior to the Civil War. However, an empirical puzzle resulting from Domar's work concerns why serfdom was not re-instituted in Western Europe after the Black Death, and the resulting increase in the land labor ratio. This aspect has been the subject of the so-called Brenner Debate.