Monday, September 05, 2022

Colonial Origins

Eli 20.1 sent me an article to read: The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation. 

Okay, I admit the title is a little dry. 

The premise, though, wasn't dry at all. The authors posit that when nations were deciding whether to  set up extractive states (Belgian colonization of the Congo) or neo-European ones (New Zealand, Canada, United States), the primary factor was the mortality rate of the colonizers from disease. 

In extractive states, the only purpose was to transfer as much of the wealth and resources to the colonizing country as possible. Neo-European states, in contrast, were developed with an emphasis on private property and checks of government powers. 

Disease? Basically, we're talking about yellow fever and malaria. In areas where the mortality rate from these diseases was much higher for colonists than indigenous people, extractive states were strongly favored. 

This was a unique argument when it was first proposed (2001). 

The authors present convincing evidence  that the effect of weak institutions persists to the present day for nations who were once extractive states. Once granted independence, the extractive states tended to mimic the institutions with which they were familiar. They also show evidence to support the notion that these weak institutions account for a significant portion of the GDP gap between former extractive states and neo-European states.

It's fascinating, and if you're interested, you can read it here (the meat of the paper is 30 pages):
The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation.

Eli said this was a foundational paper in the field, and he said because it's foundational, it's also highly disputed. It's incredibly thought-provoking, though. 

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