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The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation


Daron Acemoglu


Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Simon Johnson


Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Entrepreneurship Center; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

James A. Robinson


Harvard University - Department of Government; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

September 2000

MIT Dept. of Economics Working Paper No. 00-22

Abstract:     
We exploit differences in the mortality rates faced by European colonialists to estimate the effect of institutions on economic performance. Our argument is that Europeans adopted very different colonization policies in different colonies, with different associated institutions. The choice of colonization strategy was, at least in part, determined by whether Europeans could settle in the colony. In places where Europeans faced high mortality rates, they could not settle and they were more likely to set up worse (extractive) institutions. These early institutions persisted to the present. We document evidence supporting these hypotheses. Exploiting differences in mortality rates faced by soldiers, bishops and sailors in the colonies in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries as an instrument for current institutions, we estimate large effects of institutions on income per capita. Our estimates imply that differences in institutions explain approximately three-quarters of the income per capita differences across former colonies. Once we control for the effect of institutions, we find that countries in Africa or those closer to the equator do not have lower incomes.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 68

JEL Classification: O1, P1

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Date posted: October 5, 2000  

Suggested Citation

Acemoglu, Daron and Johnson, Simon and Robinson, James A., The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation (September 2000). MIT Dept. of Economics Working Paper No. 00-22. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=244582 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.244582

Contact Information

Daron Acemoglu (Contact Author)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )
50 Memorial Drive
Room E52-380b
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-1927 (Phone)
617-253-1330 (Fax)
Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Simon Johnson
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Entrepreneurship Center ( email )
United States
617-253-8412 (Phone)
617-258-6855 (Fax)
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
James A. Robinson
Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )
1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-2839 (Phone)
617-495-8292 (Fax)
Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)
77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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