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Social Science Research Network (SSRN)


We present an economic framework to revisit and reframe some important debates over the nature of free versus unfree labor and the economic consequences of emancipation. We use a simple general equilibrium model in which labor can be either free or coerced and where land and labor will be exchanged on markets that can be competitive or manipulated or via other non-market collusive arrangements. By working with variants of the same basic model under different assumptions about initial economy-wide factor endowments and asset ownership we can compare equilibrium distributional outcomes under different institutional and contractual arrangements including markets with free labor and free tenancy, slavery, and tenancy arrangements with tied labor-service obligations. Analysis of these different contractual and organizational forms yields insights that accord with common sense, but that are often overlooked or downplayed in academic debates, particularly amongst economists.

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Economics Commons



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