Climate, Technology, and the Evolution of Economic and Political Institutions
60 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2012
Date Written: April, 19 2012
Why are some societies characterized by enduring democracy, while other societies are either persistently autocratic or experiment with democracy but then quickly fall back into autocracy? I find that there is a systematic, non-linear relationship between rainfall levels, human capital, property rights institutions and regime types such that stable democracies overwhelmingly cluster in a band of moderate rainfall (540 to 1200 mm of precipitation per year). I advance a theory to explain this outcome that focuses on how differences in the crops that could be grown in different rainfall bands affected societies’ institutional paths of development. I then test that theory against a unique cross-country dataset, a comparison of democracies and autocracies in antiquity, and a series of natural experiments.
This paper builds upon an earlier collaboration with Victor Menaldo (University of Washington). Our joint paper, “Rainfall, Human Capital, and Democracy,” is available on SSRN. I also gratefully acknowledge discussions with Ran Abramitzky, Isa Chavez, Roy Elis, Stanley Engerman, Rob Fleck, Avner Greif, Tim Guinnane, Mark Kleinman, Dorothy Kronick, Naomi Lamoreaux, Ross Levine, Joseph Manning, Ian Morris, Josh Ober, Robert Packenham, Paul Sniderman, William Summerhill, and Barry Weingast. Nicholas Baldo, Kevin Cook, Roy Elis, Anne Given, and Scott Khamphoune, Dorothy Kronick, and Cole Lupoli, provided invaluable research assistance.
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