The Black Death visited unprecedented mortality rates on Europe, realigning relative values of factors of production, and in consequence the costs and benefits of defining and enforcing property rights. Our model refines the conceptual range of shared claims that exist between open access and private property, improving analysis of the postplague pattern and timing of abandonments and privatizations. Because of title enforcement costs, the decreased marginal value of nonhuman assets induced a lapse of some private claims, although communities continued to exploit a part of those resources informally as a commons. In contrast, the marginal value of labor and human capital rose, which placed insupportable stress on feudal institutions. The predictable evolution of workers' rights to their own labor accelerated the erosion of serfdom. The Black Death thus illustrates demographic change inducing evolutionary institutional change.
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