The Political Economy of Ethnolinguistic Cleavages

54 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2009 Last revised: 19 Oct 2009

See all articles by Klaus Desmet

Klaus Desmet

Southern Methodist University (SMU); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Ignacio Ortuno-Ortin

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid - Department of Economics

Romain T. Wacziarg

UCLA Anderson School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: September 2009

Abstract

This paper proposes a new method to measure ethnolinguistic diversity and offers new results linking such diversity with a range of political economy outcomes -- civil conflict, redistribution, economic growth and the provision of public goods. We use linguistic trees, describing the genealogical relationship between the entire set of 6,912 world languages, to compute measures of fractionalization and polarization at different levels of linguistic aggregation. By doing so, we let the data inform us on which linguistic cleavages are most relevant, rather than making ad hoc choices of linguistic classifications. We find drastically different effects of linguistic diversity at different levels of aggregation: deep cleavages, originating thousands of years ago, lead to measures of diversity that are better predictors of civil conflict and redistribution than those that account for more recent and superficial divisions. The opposite pattern holds when it comes to the impact of linguistic diversity on growth and public goods provision, where finer distinctions between languages matter.

Suggested Citation

Desmet, Klaus and Ortuno-Ortin, Ignacio and Wacziarg, Romain T., The Political Economy of Ethnolinguistic Cleavages (September 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w15360. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1475552

Klaus Desmet

Southern Methodist University (SMU) ( email )

6212 Bishop Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75275
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

Ignacio Ortuno-Ortin

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid - Department of Economics ( email )

Calle Madrid 126
Getafe, 28903
Spain

Romain T. Wacziarg (Contact Author)

UCLA Anderson School of Management ( email )

110 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1481
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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