Public Choice

, Volume 155, Issue 3–4, pp 189–209 | Cite as

Slavery: a dual-equilibrium model with some historical examples



What sustains slavery, and why at critical junctures—the fall of the Roman Empire, the early modern expansion of plantation agriculture, the later phases of the industrial revolution, the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s—has it often expanded or contracted so rapidly? Why have elites sometimes been united, but sometimes violently divided, over the choice between free and servile labor? Why has slavery usually been ended by legal prohibition rather than voluntary abandonment? An extremely simple dual-equilibrium picture can illuminate how, when, and with whose support slavery is introduced or abolished. Internal divisions over slavery are likely to be most intense as a society approaches either of these “tipping points.” The most striking example, explored fleetingly here, is the US Civil War.


Slavery Serfdom Land-labor ratio Industrial revolution Totalitarian US Civil War 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., & Robinson, J. A. (2002). Reversal of fortune: geography and institutions in the making of the modern world income distribution. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118, 1231–1294. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aston, T., & Philpin, C. H. (1987). The Brenner debate: agrarian class structure and economic development in pre-industrial Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar
  3. Barzel, Y. (1977). An economic analysis of slavery. Journal of Law and Economics, 87–110. Google Scholar
  4. Blackmon, D. A. (2008). Slavery by another name: the re-enslavement of black people in America from the Civil War to World War II. New York: Doubleday. Google Scholar
  5. Carsten, F. L. (1954). The origins of Prussia. London: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  6. Chernow, R. (2004). Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin. Google Scholar
  7. Cipolla, C. M. (1993). Before the industrial revolution: European society and economy (3rd ed., pp. 1000–1700). London: Routledge. Google Scholar
  8. Cohn, S. (2007). After the Black Death: labour legislation and attitudes toward labour in late-medieval Western Europe. Economic History Review, 60, 457–485. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. de Vries, J. (1994). The industrial revolution and the industrious revolution. Journal of Economic History, 54(2), 249–270. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, germs, and steel: the fates of human societies. New York: Norton. Google Scholar
  11. Domar, E. D. (1970). The causes of slavery or serfdom: a hypothesis. Journal of Economic History, 30, 18–32. Google Scholar
  12. Eltis, D., Lewis, F. D., & Richardson, D. (2005). Slave prices, the African slave trade, and productivity in the Caribbean, 1674–1807. Economic History Review, 58, 673–700. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Engerman, S. L. (1986). Slavery and emancipation in comparative perspective: a look at some recent debates. Journal of Economic History, 46(2), 317–339. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Figes, O. (2007). The whisperers: private life in Stalin’s Russia. New York: Metropolitan Books. Google Scholar
  15. Findlay, R. (1975). Slavery, incentives, and manumission: a theoretical model. Journal of Political Economy, 83, 923–933. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Findlay, R., & O’Rourke, K. H. (2007). Power and plenty: trade, war, and the world economy in the second millennium. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Google Scholar
  17. Fischer, D. H. (1996). The great wave: price revolutions and the rhythm of history. New York: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar
  18. Fogel, R. W., & Engerman, S. L. (1974). Time on the cross: the economics of American negro slavery. London: Wildwood House. Google Scholar
  19. Gabba, E. (1976). Republican Rome, the army, and the allies (trans.: Cuff, P. J.). Berkeley: University of California Press. Google Scholar
  20. Ganshof, F. L. (1964). Feudalism. New York: Harper and Row. Google Scholar
  21. Haskell, T. L. (1985). Capitalism and the origins of the humanitarian sensibility. American Historical Review, 90, 339–361 and 547–566. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Herbert, U. (1999). Fremdarbeiter: Politik und Praxi des Ausländer-Einsatzes in der Kriegswirtschaft des Dritten Reiches. Bonn: J. H. W. Dietz Nachfolger. Google Scholar
  23. Herlihy, D. (1997). The Black Death and the transformation of the West (ed.: Cohn, J. S. K.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Google Scholar
  24. Kaufmann, C. D., & Pape, R. A. (1999). Explaining costly moral action: Britain’s sixty-year campaign against the Atlantic slave trade. International Organization, 53, 631–668. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lagerlöf, N.-P. (2007). Slavery and other property rights. Retrieved July 7, 2008, from Munich personal RePEc archive:
  26. Lincoln, A. (1992). Selected speeches and writings (ed.: Fehrenbacher, D.) New York: Library of America Paperback Classics. Google Scholar
  27. Maddalena, A. D. (1974). Rural Europe 1500–1750. In Cipolla, C. M. (ed.) Fontana economic history of Europe: the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (vol. 2). Glasgow: Collins/Fontana Books. Google Scholar
  28. Mintz, S. (1959). Labor and sugar in Puerto Rico and in Jamaica, 1800–1850. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 1, 273–281. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. North, D. C., & Thomas, R. P. (1973). The rise of the Western world: a new economic history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nove, A. (1972). An economic history of the USSR. Baltimore: Penguin. Google Scholar
  31. O’Rourke, K. H., & Williamson, J. G. (1999). Globalization and history: the evolution of a nineteenth-century Atlantic economy. Cambridge: MIT Press. Google Scholar
  32. Russell, B. (1975). Autobiography (One-volume paperback ed.). London: Routledge. Google Scholar
  33. Scullard, H. H. (1982). From the Gracchi to Nero: a history of Rome from 133 B. C. to A. D. 68 (5th ed.). London: Routledge. Google Scholar
  34. Tooze, A. (2006). The wages of destruction: the making and breaking of the nazi economy. New York: Viking. Google Scholar
  35. Torp, C. (2005). Die Herausforderung der Globalisierung: Wirtschaft und Politik in Deutschland 1860–1914. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Google Scholar
  36. White, L. J. (1962). Medieval technology and social change. London: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UCLALos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations