Deep Determinants of Development


  1. Alesina, A., Giuliano, P. and Nunn, N. (2013) “On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 128(2), pp. 469–530. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      The study examines the historical origins of existing cross-cultural differences in beliefs and values regarding the appropriate role of women in society. We test the hypothesis that traditional agricultural practices influenced the historical gender division of labor and the evolution of gender norms. We find that, consistent with existing hypotheses, the descendants of societies that traditionally practiced plough agriculture today have less equal gender norms, measured using reported gender-role attitudes and female participation in the workplace, politics, and entrepreneurial activities. Our results hold looking across countries, across districts within countries, and across ethnicities within districts. To test for the importance of cultural persistence, we examine the children of immigrants living in Europe and the United States. We find that even among these individuals, all born and raised in the same country, those with a heritage of traditional plough use exhibit less equal beliefs about gender roles today. JEL Codes: D03, J16, N30. Copyright 2013, Oxford University Press.

  2. Alesina, A., Giuliano, P. and Nunn, N. (2011) “Fertility and the Plough,” NBER Working Papers, (16718).
    • Abstract

      The current study finds that societies which historically engaged in plough agriculture today have lower fertility. We argue, and provide ethnographic evidence, that the finding is explained by the fact that with plough agriculture, children, like women, are relatively less useful in the field. The plough requires strength and eliminates the need for weeding, a task particularly suitable for women and children. This in turn generates a preference for fewer children, lowering fertility.

  3. Alsan, M. (2015) “The Effect of the TseTse Fly on African Development,” American Economic Review, 105(1), pp. 382–410. doi: 10.1257/aer.20130604.
    • Abstract

      The TseTse fly is unique to Africa and transmits a parasite harmful to humans and lethal to livestock. This paper tests the hypothesis that the TseTse reduced the ability of Africans to generate an agricultural surplus historically. Ethnic groups inhabiting TseTse-suitable areas were less likely to use domesticated animals and the plow, less likely to be politically centralized, and had a lower population density. These correlations are not found in the tropics outside of Africa, where the fly does not exist. The evidence suggests current economic performance is affected by the TseTse through the channel of precolonial political centralization. (JEL I12, N57, O13, O17, Q12, Q16, Q18)

  4. Andersen, T. B., Dalgaard, C.-J. and Selaya, P. (2016) “Climate and the Emergence of Global Income Differences,” Review of Economic Studies, 83(4), pp. 1334–1363. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      The latitude gradient in comparative development is a striking fact: as one moves away from the equator, economic activity rises. While this regularity is well known, it is not well understood. Perhaps the strongest correlate of (absolute) latitude is the intensity of ultraviolet radiation (UV-R), which epidemiological research has shown to be a cause of a wide range of diseases. We establish that UV-R is strongly and negatively correlated with economic activity, both across and within countries. We propose and test a mechanism that links UV-R to current income differences via the impact of disease ecology on the timing of the take-off to sustained growth.

  5. Ashraf, Q. and Galor, O. (2013) “Genetic Diversity and the Origins of Cultural Fragmentation,” American Economic Review, 103(3), pp. 528–33. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      The origin of the uneven distribution of ethnic and cultural fragmentation across countries has been underexplored, despite the importance attributed to the effects of diversity on the stability and prosperity of nations. Building on the role of deeply-rooted biogeographical forces in comparative development, this research empirically demonstrates that genetic diversity, predominantly determined during the prehistoric "out of Africa" migration of humans, is an underlying cause of various existing manifestations of ethnolinguistic heterogeneity. Further research may revolutionize our understanding of how economic development and the composition of human capital across the globe are affected by these deeply-rooted factors.

  6. Ashraf, Q. and Galor, O. (2013) “The ‘Out of Africa’ Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development,” American Economic Review, (1), pp. 1–46.
    • Abstract

      This research advances and empirically establishes the hypothesis that, in the course of the prehistoric exodus of Homo sapiens out of Africa, variation in migratory distance to various settlements across the globe affected genetic diversity and has had a persistent hump-shaped effect on comparative economic development, reflecting the trade-off between the beneficial and the detrimental effects of diversity on productivity. While the low diversity of Native American populations and the high diversity of African populations have been detrimental for the development of these regions, the intermediate levels of diversity associated with European and Asian populations have been conducive for development.

  7. Ashraf, Q. and Galor, O. (2011) “Dynamics and stagnation in the malthusian epoch,” American Economic Review, 101(5), pp. 2003–41.
    • Abstract

      This paper examines the central hypothesis of the influential Malthusian theory, according to which improvements in the technological environment during the preindustrial era had generated only temporary gains in income per capita, eventually leading to a larger, but not significantly richer, population. Exploiting exogenous sources of cross-country variations in land productivity and the level of technological advancement, the analysis demonstrates that, in accordance with the theory, technological superiority and higher land productivity had significant positive effects on population density but insignificant effects on the standard of living, during the time period 1-1500 CE.

  8. Ashraf, Q. and Michalopoulos, S. (2015) “Climatic Fluctuations and the Diffusion of Agriculture,” The Review of Economics and Statistics, 97(3), pp. 589–609. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      This research examines the climatic origins of the diffusion of Neolithic agriculture across countries and archaeological sites. The theory suggests that a foraging society’s history of climatic shocks shaped the timing of its adoption of farming. Specifically, as long as climatic disturbances did not lead to a collapse of the underlying resource base, the rate at which hunter-gatherers were climatically propelled to experiment with their habitats determined the accumulation of tacit knowledge complementary to farming. Consistent with the proposed hypothesis, the empirical investigation demonstrates that, conditional on biogeographic endowments, climatic volatility has a hump-shaped effect on the timing of the adoption of agriculture.

  9. Barrios, S., Bertinelli, L. and Strobl, E. (2010) “Trends in Rainfall and Economic Growth in Africa: A Neglected Cause of the African Growth Tragedy,” The Review of Economics and Statistics, 92(2), pp. 350–366. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      We examine the role of rainfall trends in poor growth performance of sub-Saharan African nations relative to other developing countries, using a new cross-country panel climatic data set in an empirical economic growth framework. Our results show that rainfall has been a significant determinant of poor economic growth for African nations but not for other countries. Depending on the benchmark measure of potential rainfall, we estimate that the direct impact under the scenario of no decline in rainfall would have resulted in a reduction of between around 15% and 40% of today’s gap in African GDP per capita relative to the rest of the developing world. \copyright 2010 The President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

  10. Bleakley, H. and Lin, J. (2012) “Portage and Path Dependence,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 127(2), pp. 587–644. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      Many cities in North America formed at obstacles to water navigation, where continued transport required overland hauling or portage. Portage sites attracted commerce and supporting services, and places where the falls provided water power attracted manufacturing during early industrialization. We examine portage sites in the U.S. South, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest, including those on the fall line, a geomorphological feature in the southeastern United States marking the final rapids on rivers before the ocean. Although their original advantages have long since become obsolete, we document the continuing importance of historical portage sites. We interpret these results as path dependence and contrast explanations based on sunk costs interacting with decreasing versus increasing returns to scale. Copyright 2012, Oxford University Press.

  11. Cook, C. J. (2015) “The Natural Selection of Infectious Disease Resistance and Its Effect on Contemporary Health,” Review of Economics and Statistics.
    • Abstract

      This paper empirically tests the association between genetically determined resistance to infectious disease and cross-country health differences. A country-level measure of genetic diversity for the system of genes associated with the recognition and disposal of foreign pathogens is constructed. Genetic diversity within this system has been shown to reduce the virulence and prevalence of infectious diseases and is hypothesized to have been naturally selected from historical exposure to infectious pathogens. Base estimation shows a statistically strong, robust, and positive relationship between this constructed measure and country-level health outcomes in times prior to, but not after, the international epidemiological transition.

  12. Cook, C. J. (2014) “The role of lactase persistence in precolonial development,” Journal of Economic Growth. Springer, 19(4), pp. 369–406.
  13. Cook, C. J. (2014) “Potatoes, milk, and the Old World population boom,” Journal of Development Economics, 110(C), pp. 123–138. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      This paper explores the role of two foods, potatoes and milk, in explaining the increase in economic development experienced throughout the Old World in the 18th and 19th centuries. Nunn and Qian (2011) show the introduction of the potato from the New World has a significant explanatory role for within country population and urbanization growth over this period. I expand on this by considering the role of milk consumption, which is hypothesized to be a complement in diet to potatoes due to a differential composition of essential nutrients. Using a country-level measure for the suitability of milk consumption, the frequency of lactase persistence, I show that the marginal effect of potatoes on post-1700 population and urbanization growth is positively related to milk consumption. As the frequency of milk consumption approaches unity, the marginal effect of potatoes more than doubles in magnitude compared to the baseline estimate of Nunn and Qian.

  14. Cronqvist, H. and Siegel, S. (2015) “The Origins of Savings Behavior,” Journal of Political Economy. The University of Chicago Press, 123(1), pp. pp. 123–169. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      Analyzing the savings behavior of a large sample of identical and fraternal twins, we find that genetic differences explain about 33 percent of the variation in savings propensities across individuals. Individuals are born with a persistent genetic predisposition to a specific savings behavior. Parenting contributes to the variation in savings rates among younger individuals, but its effect decays over time. The environment when growing up (e.g., parents’ wealth) moderates genetic effects. Finally, savings behavior is genetically correlated with income growth, smoking, and obesity, suggesting that the genetic component of savings behavior reflects genetic variation in time preferences or self-control.

  15. Dalgaard, C.-J., Knudsen, A. S. B. and Selaya, P. (2015) The Bounty of the Sea and Long-Run Development. CESifo Working Paper Series 5547. CESifo Group Munich. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      What is the long run impact on development from differences in subsistence strategies during pre-industrial times? Whereas this question has been explored from the point of view of agriculture, remarkably little attention has been paid to the complementary strategy of relying on marine resources. As a step towards closing this gap, we construct an index - the Bounty of the Sea index - which captures the potential abundance of exploitable marine fish that individual countries have had access to, and proceed to explore its correlation with economic development. Our analysis reveals that a greater Bounty of the Sea stimulated pre-industrial development, and that countries inhabited by people with ancestry in regions with abundant marine resources are richer today. Probing possible underlying reasons, we find that populations with ancestry in regions rich in marine resources differ from societies with a purely agrarian legacy in terms of institutions, cultural values and average personality traits.

  16. Dell, M., Jones, B. F. and Olken, B. A. (2012) “Temperature Shocks and Economic Growth: Evidence from the Last Half Century,” American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 4(3), pp. 66–95. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      This paper uses historical fluctuations in temperature within countries to identify its effects on aggregate economic outcomes. We find three primary results. First, higher temperatures substantially reduce economic growth in poor countries. Second, higher temperatures may reduce growth rates, not just the level of output. Third, higher temperatures have wide-ranging effects, reducing agricultural output, industrial output, and political stability. These findings inform debates over climate’s role in economic development and suggest the possibility of substantial negative impacts of higher temperatures on poor countries. (JEL E23, O13, Q54, Q56)

  17. Diamond, J. (1997) Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Co.
  18. Easterly, W. and Levine, R. (2003) “Tropics, Germs, and Crops: How Endowments Influence Economic Development,” Journal of Monetary Economics, 50(1), pp. 3–39.
    • Abstract

      Does economic development depend on geographic endowments like temperate instead of tropical location, the ecological conditions shaping diseases, or an environment good for grains or certain cash crops? Or do these endowments of tropics, germs, and crops affect economic development only through institutions or policies? We test the endowment, institution, and policy views against each other using cross country evidence. We find evidence that tropics, germs, and crops affect development through institutions. We find no evidence that tropics, germs, and crops affect country incomes directly other than through institutions, nor do we find any effect of policies on development once we control for institutions.

  19. Elvidge, C. D., Baugh, K. E., Dietz, J. B., Bland, T., Sutton, P. C. and Kroehl, H. W. (1999) “Radiance Calibration of DMSP-OLS Low-Light Imaging Data of Human Settlements,” Remote Sensing of Environment, 68(1), pp. 77–88. doi: Link.
    • Abstract

      Nocturnal lighting is a primary method for enabling human activity. Outdoor lighting is used extensively worldwide in residential, commercial, industrial, public facilities, and roadways. A radiance calibrated nighttime lights image of the United States has been assembled from Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) Operational Linescan System (OLS). The satellite observation of the location and intensity of nocturnal lighting provide a unique view of humanities presence and can be used as a spatial indicator for other variables that are more difficult to observe at a global scale. Examples include the modeling of population density and energy related greenhouse gas emissions.

  20. Fenske, J. (2014) “Ecology, Trade, And States In Pre-Colonial Africa,” Journal of the European Economic Association, 12(3), pp. 612–640. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      State capacity matters for growth. I test Bates’ explanation of pre-colonial African states. He argues that trade across ecological boundaries promoted states. I find that African societies in ecologically diverse environments had more centralized states. This is robust to reverse causation, omitted heterogeneity, and alternative interpretations of the link between diversity and states. The result survives including non-African societies. I test mechanisms connecting trade to states, and find that trade supported class stratification between rulers and ruled. I underscore the importance of ethnic institutions and inform our knowledge of the effects of trade on institutions.

  21. Fouka, V. and Schlaepfer, A. (2015) “Agricultural Labor Intensity and the Origins of Work Ehtics.”
  22. Frankema, E. and Papaioannou, K. (2017) Rainfall patterns and human settlement in tropical africa and asia compared. Did African farmers face greater insecurity? C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  23. Galor, O. and Moav, O. (2002) “Natural Selection and the Origin of Economic Growth,” Quarterly Journal of Economics. MIT Press, 117(4), pp. 1133–1191.
    • Abstract

      This research develops an evolutionary growth theory that captures the interplay between the evolution of mankind and economic growth since the emergence of the human species. The theory suggests that the struggle for survival that had characterized most of human existence generated an evolutionary advantage to human traits that were complementary to the growth process, triggering the takeoff from an epoch of stagnation to sustained economic growth.

  24. Galor, O. and Özak, Ömer (2016) “The Agricultural Origins of Time Preference,” American Economic Review, 106(10), pp. 3064–3103. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      This research explores the origins of observed differences in time preference across countries and regions. Exploiting a natural experiment associated with the expansion of suitable crops for cultivation in the course of the Columbian Exchange, the research establishes that pre-industrial agro-climatic characteristics which were conducive to higher return to agricultural investment triggered selection, adaptation, and learning processes that generated a persistent positive effect on the prevalence of long-term orientation in the contemporary era. Furthermore, the research establishes that these agro-climatic characteristics have had a culturally embodied impact on economic behavior such as technological adoption, education, saving, and smoking.

  25. Goldewijk, K. K., Beusen, A., Drecht, G. van and Vos, M. de (2011) “The HYDE 3.1 spatially explicit database of human-induced global land-use change over the past 12,000 years,” Global Ecology and Biogeography. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 20(1), pp. 73–86. doi: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00587.x.
  26. Henderson, J. V., Squires, T. L., Storeygard, A. and Weil, D. N. (2016) The Global Spatial Distribution of Economic Activity: Nature, History, and the Role of Trade. NBER Working Papers 22145. National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      We study the distribution of economic activity, as proxied by lights at night, across 250,000 grid cells of average area 560 square kilometers. We first document that nearly half of the variation can be explained by a parsimonious set of physical geography attributes. A full set of country indicators only explains a further 10%. When we divide geographic characteristics into two groups, those primarily important for agriculture and those primarily important for trade, we find that the agriculture variables have relatively more explanatory power in countries that developed early and the trade variables have relatively more in countries that developed late, despite the fact that the latter group of countries are far more dependent on agriculture today. We explain this apparent puzzle in a model in which two technological shocks occur, one increasing agricultural productivity and the other decreasing transportation costs, and in which agglomeration economies lead to persistence in urban locations. In countries that developed early, structural transformation due to rising agricultural productivity began at a time when transport costs were still relatively high, so urban agglomerations were localized in agricultural regions. When transport costs fell, these local agglomerations persisted. In late developing countries, transport costs fell well before structural transformation. To exploit urban scale economies, manufacturing agglomerated in relatively few, often coastal, locations. With structural transformation, these initial coastal locations grew, without formation of more cities in the agricultural interior.

  27. Huning, T. R. and Wahl, F. (2016) You Reap What You Know: Observability of Soil Quality, and Political Fragmentation. Working Papers 0101. European Historical Economics Society (EHES). Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      We provide a theoretical model linking limits to the observability of soil quality to state rulers’ ability to tax agricultural output, which leads to a higher political fragmentation. We introduce a spatial measure to quantify state planners’ observability in an agricultural society. The model is applied to spatial variation in the 1378 Holy Roman Empire, the area with the highest political fragmentation in European history. We find that differences in the observability of agricultural output explain the size and capacity of states as well as the emergence and longevity of city states. Grid cells with higher observability of agricultural output intersect with a significantly lower number of territories within them. Our results highlight the role of agriculture and geography, for size, political, and economic organization of states. This sheds light on early, though persistent, determinants of industrial development within Germany, and also within Central Europe.

  28. Johnson, T. R. and Vollrath, D. (2017) “How Tight are Malthusian Constraints?”   Paper
    • Abstract

      We provide a methodology to estimate the elasticity of agricultural output with respect to land - the Malthusian constraint - using variation in rural densities across different locations. We use district-level data from around the globe on rural densities and inherent agricultural productivity to estimate the elasticity for various sub-samples. We find the elasticity is highest in areas that are suitable for temperate crops such as wheat or rye, and loosest in areas suitable for (sub)-tropical crops such as cassava or rice. We show theoretically that a higher elasticity results in greater sensitivity of non-agricultural employment and real income per capita to shocks in population size and productivity, and confirm this with evidence from the post-war mortality transition.

  29. Kottek, M., Grieser, J., Beck, C., Rudolf, B. and Rubel, F. (2006) “World Map of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification updated,” Meteorologische Zeitschrift. Stuttgart, Germany: Schweizerbart Science Publishers, 15(3), pp. 259–263. doi: 10.1127/0941-2948/2006/0130.
  30. Lagerlöf, N.-P. (2016) “Understaning per capita income growth in preindustrial Europe.”
  31. Litina, A. (2016) “Natural land productivity, cooperation and comparative development,” Journal of Economic Growth, 21(4), pp. 351–408. doi: 10.1007/s10887-016-9134-7.
    • Abstract

      Abstract This research advances the hypothesis that natural land productivity in the past, and its effect on the desirable level of cooperation in the agricultural sector, had a persistent effect on the evolution of social capital, the process of industrialization and comparative economic development across the globe. Exploiting exogenous sources of variations in land productivity across (a) countries; (b) individuals within a country, (c) migrants of different ancestry within a country, and (d) individuals residing in regions within a country, the research establishes that lower level of land productivity in the past is associated with more intense cooperation and higher levels of contemporary social capital and development.

  32. Masters, W. A. and McMillan, M. S. (2001) “Climate and Scale in Economic Growth,” Journal of Economic Growth, 6(3), pp. 167–186.
    • Abstract

      This paper introduces new data on climatic conditions to empirical tests of growth theories. We find that, since 1960, temperate countries have converged towards high levels of income while tropical nations have converged towards various income levels associated with economic scale and the extent of the market. These results hold for a wide range of tests. A plausible explanation is that temperate regions’ growth was assisted by their climate, perhaps historically for their transition out of agriculture into sectors whose productivity converges across countries, while tropical countries’ growth is relatively more dependent on gains from specialization and trade.

  33. Michalopoulos, S. (2012) “The Origins of Ethnolinguistic Diversity,” American Economic Review, 102(4), pp. 1508–39. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      This study explores the determinants of ethnolinguistic diversity within as well as across countries, shedding light on its geographic origins. The empirical analysis conducted across countries, virtual countries, and pairs of contiguous regions establishes that geographic variability, captured by variation in regional land quality and elevation, is a fundamental determinant of contemporary linguistic diversity. The findings are consistent with the proposed hypothesis that differences in land endowments gave rise to location-specific human capital, leading to the formation of localized ethnicities. (JEL J15, J24, Z13)

  34. Michalopoulos, S., Putterman, L. and Weil, D. N. (2016) The Influence of Ancestral Lifeways on Individual Economic Outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa. Working Paper 21907. National Bureau of Economic Research. doi: 10.3386/w21907.
    • Abstract

      We explore the role of an individual’s historical lineage in determining economic status, holding constant his or her current location. This is complementary to the more common approach to studying how history shapes economic outcomes across locations. Motivated by a large literature in social sciences stressing the beneficial influence of agricultural transition on contemporary economic performance at the level of countries, we examine the relative status of descendants of agriculturalists vs. pastoralists. We match individual-level survey data with information on the historical lifeways of ancestors, focusing on Africa, where the transition away from such modes of production began only recently. Within enumeration areas and occupational groups, we find that individuals from ethnicities that derived a larger share of subsistence from agriculture in the pre-colonial era are today more educated and wealthy. A tentative exploration of channels suggests that differences in attitudes and beliefs as well as differential treatment by others, including less political power, may contribute to these divergent outcomes.

  35. Motamed, M. J., Florax, R. J. G. M. and Masters, W. A. (2014) “Agriculture, transportation and the timing of urbanization: Global analysis at the grid cell level,” Journal of Economic Growth. Springer US, 19(3), pp. 339–368. Available at: Link.
  36. Nunn, N. and Qian, N. (2011) “The Potato’s Contribution to Population and Urbanization: Evidence from a Historical Experiment,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Oxford University Press, 126(2), pp. pp. 593–650. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      We exploit regional variation in suitability for cultivating potatoes, together with time variation arising from their introduction to the Old World from the Americas, to estimate the impact of potatoes on Old World population and urbanization. Our results show that the introduction of the potato was responsible for a significant portion of the increase in population and urbanization observed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. According to our most conservative estimates, the introduction of the potato accounts for approximately one-quarter of the growth in Old World population and urbanization between 1700 and 1900. Additional evidence from within-country comparisons of city populations and adult heights also confirms the cross-country findings.

  37. Olsson, O. and Hibbs, D. J. (2005) “Biogeography and long-run economic development,” European Economic Review, 49(4), pp. 909–938. Available at: Link.
    • Abstract

      The transition from a hunter-gather economy to agricultural production, which made possible the endogenous technological progress that ultimately led to the industrial revolution, is one of the most important events in the thousands of years of humankind’s economic development. In this paper we present theory and evidence showing that exogenous geography and initial condition biogeography exerted decisive influence on the location and timing of transitions to sedentary agriculture, to complex social organization and, eventually, to modern industrial production. Evidence from a large cross-section of countries indicates that the effects of geographic and biogeographic endowments on contemporary levels of economic development are remarkably strong.

      (This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

    • Olsson, O. and Paik, C. (2015) Long-run Cultural Divergence: Evidence from the Neolithic Revolution. Link: University of Gothenburg.
      • Abstract

        This paper investigates the long-run infuence of the Neolithic Revolution on contemporary cultural norms and institutions as reflected in the dimension of collectivism-individualism. We outline an agricultural origins-model of cultural divergence where we claim that the advent of farming in a core region was characterized by collectivist values and eventually triggered the out-migration of individualistic farmers towards more and more peripheral areas. This migration pattern caused the initial cultural divergence, which remained persistent over generations. The key mechanism is demonstrated in an extended Malthusian growth model that explicitly models cultural dynamics and a migration choice for individualistic farmers. Using detailed data on the date of adoption of Neolithic agriculture among Western regions and countries, the empirical findings show that the regions which adopted agriculture early also value obedience more and feel less in control of their lives. They have also had very little experience of democracy during the last century. The findings add to the literature by suggesting the possibility of extremely long lasting norms and beliefs infuencing today’s socioeconomic outcomes.

    • Rappaport, J. and Sachs, J. D. (2003) “The United States as a Coastal Nation,” Journal of Economic Growth, 8(1), pp. 5–46. Available at: Link.
      • Abstract

        US economic activity is overwhelmingly concentrated at its ocean and Great Lakes coasts, reflecting a large contribution from coastal proximity to productivity and quality of life. Extensively controlling for correlated natural attributes and initial conditions decisively rejects that the coastal concentration of economic activity is spurious or just derives from historical forces long since dissipated. Measuring proximity based on coastal attributes that contribute to either productivity or quality of life, but not to both, suggests that the coastal concentration derives primarily from a productivity effect but also, increasingly, from a quality of life effect. Copyright 2003 by Kluwer Academic Publishers

    • Sachs, J. D. (2003) Institutions Don’t Rule: Direct Effects of Geography on Per Capita Income. NBER Working Papers 9490. National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc. Available at: Link.
      • Abstract

        In a series of papers, my colleagues and I have demonstrated that levels of per capita income, economic growth, and other economic and demographic dimensions are strongly correlated with geographical and ecological variables such as climate zone, disease ecology, and distance from the coast. Three recent papers purport to show that the role of geography in explaining cross-country patterns of income per capita operates predominantly or exclusively through the choice of institutions, with little direct effect of geography on income after controlling for the quality institutions. This note shows that malaria transmission, which is strongly affected by ecological conditions, directly affects the level of per capita income after controlling for the quality of institutions.

    • Spolaore, E. and Wacziarg, R. (2014) “Long-Term Barriers to Economic Development,” in Handbook of Economic Growth. Elsevier (Handbook of Economic Growth), pp. 121–176. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53538-.
      • Abstract

        What obstacles prevent the most productive technologies from spreading to less developed economies from the world’s technological frontier? In this paper, we seek to shed light on this question by quantifying the geographic and human barriers to the transmission of technologies. We argue that the intergenerational transmission of human traits, particularly culturally transmitted traits, has led to divergence between populations over the course of history. In turn, this divergence has introduced barriers to the diffusion of technologies across societies. We provide measures of historical and genealogical distances between populations, and document how such distances, relative to the world’s technological frontier, act as barriers to the diffusion of development and of specific innovations. We provide an interpretation of these results in the context of an emerging literature seeking to understand variation in economic development as the result of factors rooted deep in history.

    • Spolaore, E. and Wacziarg, R. (2013) “How Deep Are the Roots of Economic Development?,” Journal of Economic Literature, 51(2), pp. 325–369. Available at: Link.
      • Abstract

        The empirical literature on economic growth and development has moved from the study of proximate determinants to the analysis of ever deeper, more fundamental factors, rooted in long-term history. A growing body of new empirical work focuses on the measurement and estimation of the effects of historical variables on contemporary income by explicitly taking into account the ancestral composition of current populations. The evidence suggests that economic development is affected by traits that have been transmitted across generations over the very long run. This article surveys this new literature and provides a framework to discuss different channels through which intergenerationally transmitted characteristics may impact economic development, biologically (via genetic or epigenetic transmission) and culturally (via behavioral or symbolic transmission). An important issue is whether historically transmitted traits have affected development through their direct impact on productivity, or have operated indirectly as barriers to the diffusion of productivityenhancing innovations across populations.

    • Spolaore, E. and Wacziarg, R. (2012) “Long-Term Barriers to the International Diffusion of Innovations,” NBER International Seminar on Macroeconomics, 8(1), pp. 11–46. Available at: Link.
    • Spolaore, E. and Wacziarg, R. (2009) “The Diffusion of Development,” Quarterly Journal of Economics. MIT Press, 124(2), pp. 469–529.
      • Abstract

        We find that genetic distance, a measure associated with the time elapsed since two populations’ last common ancestors, has a statistically and economically significant effect on income differences across countries, even controlling for measures of geographical distance, climatic differences, transportation costs, and measures of historical, religious, and linguistic distance. We provide an economic interpretation of these findings in terms of barriers to the diffusion of development from the world technological frontier, implying that income differences should be a function of relative genetic distance from the frontier. The empirical evidence strongly supports this barriers interpretation.

    • Strulik, H. (2008) “Geography, health, and the pace of demo-economic development,” Journal of Development Economics. Elsevier, 86(1), pp. 61–75.
      • Abstract

        This paper investigates the impact of subsistence consumption and extrinsic and intrinsic causes of child mortality on fertility and child expenditure. It offers a theory for why mankind multiplies at higher rates at geographically unfavorable, tropical locations. Placed into a macroeconomic framework this behavior creates an indirect channel through which geography shapes economic performance. It is explained why it are countries of low absolute latitude where we observe exceedingly slow (if not stalled) economic development and demographic transition.

    • Talhelm, T., Zhang, X., Oishi, S., Shimin, C., Duan, D., Lan, X. and Kitayama, S. (2014) “Large-Scale Psychological Differences Within China Explained by Rice Versus Wheat Agriculture,” Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 344(6184), pp. 603–608. doi: 10.1126/science.1246850.
      • Abstract

        On a diverse and large set of cognitive tests, subjects in East Asian countries are more inclined to display collectivist choices, whereas subjects in the United States are more inclined to score as individualists. Talhelm et al. (p. 603; see the Perspective by Henrich) suggest that one historical source of influence was societal patterns of farming rice versus wheat, based on three cognitive measures of individualism and collectivism in 1000 subjects from rice- and wheat-growing regions in China. Cross-cultural psychologists have mostly contrasted East Asia with the West. However, this study shows that there are major psychological differences within China. We propose that a history of farming rice makes cultures more interdependent, whereas farming wheat makes cultures more independent, and these agricultural legacies continue to affect people in the modern world. We tested 1162 Han Chinese participants in six sites and found that rice-growing southern China is more interdependent and holistic-thinking than the wheat-growing north. To control for confounds like climate, we tested people from neighboring counties along the rice-wheat border and found differences that were just as large. We also find that modernization and pathogen prevalence theories do not fit the data.

    • Waldinger, M. (2015) The economic effects of long-term climate change: evidence from the little ice age. GRI Working Papers 214. Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. Available at: Link.
      • Abstract

        Recent studies have consistently found important economic effects of year-to-year weather fluctuations. This paper studies the economic effects of long-term and gradual climate change, over a period of 250 years, when people have time to adapt. In particular, I study the effects of the Little Ice Age, a historical episode of long-term climate change. Results show significant negative economic effects of long-term climate change. Cities with good access to trade were substantially less affected. Results from yearly historical wheat prices and yield ratios show that temperature change impacted economic growth through its effect on agricultural productivity. Further evidence shows a lack of adaptation. I show evidence of the relevance of these results to the context of contemporary developing countries and recommend ways in which these findings may improve Integrated Assessment Models.

    • Wilde, J. (2013) How Substitutable are Fixed Factors in Production? Evidence from Pre-industrial England. Working Papers 0113. University of South Florida, Department of Economics. Available at: Link.
      • Abstract

        The extent to which fixed factors of production such as land constrain per-capita income growth has been a widely discussed topic in economics since at least Malthus (1798). Whether fixed factors limit growth depends crucially on two variables: the substitutability of fixed factors in production, and the extent to which innovation will be biased towards land-saving technologies. However, there are few estimates of either variable, and most models assume this elasticity of substitution is unity out of con- venience. This paper attempts to fill that gap in the literature. Using the timing of plague epidemics as an instrument for labor supply, this paper estimates the elasticity of substitution between fixed and non-fixed factors in pre-industrial England. I find that the elasticity of substitution between land and other factors during this period was signicantly less than one, which implies that the Malthusian effects of population on income were stronger than current models predict. In addition, I am able to esti- mate the direction and magnitude of induced innovation. I find evidence that denser populations – and hence higher land scarcity – induced innovation towards land-saving technologies. Specically, I find that a doubling of population density in England from its year 1500 level raises the difference in the growth rates of land- and labor-enhancing productivity by 0.22% per year.

    • Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), Columbia University, International Food Policy Research Institute, The World Bank, and Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (2011) “Global Rural-Urban Mapping Project, Version 1 (GRUMPv1): Population Density Grid.” Palisades, NY: NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC). Available at: Link.
    • Food and Agriculture Organization (2012) Global Agro-ecological Zones. United Nations.

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