No reversal of fortune in the long run: geography and spatial persistence of prosperity in Colombia, 1500-2005

Available from: 
October 2013
Paper author(s): 
Adolfo Meisel (Banco de la Republica de Colombia)
History and Economics
Politics and Economy

Over the last two decades the work of Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson and their associates has enriched the debate about the long run determinants of economic prosperity. The main message of these authors is quite clear: in the long run institutions are the predominant reason why some places grow rich and others stagnate. One of the empirical arguments that Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson present to demonstrate the primacy of institutions, over other possible determinants of long run prosperity, such as geography, is what they have called the “reversal of fortune thesis”. In their view, the European colonization of the world that started since the early XVI century dramatically changed the distribution of prosperity in space: those places that circa 1500 were the most prosperous are relatively poor today and viceversa. In this paper we will show that for the case of Colombia there was no reversal of fortune. Rather, what is observed is the continuity of relative prosperity. With few exceptions, those places which in 1500 were relatively rich, tend to remain prosperous throughout the centuries. This conclusion does not deny the enormous importance of institutions for long run economic growth. However, it does highlight the persistence and importance of the geographical influence, either directly or indirectly, via the inertia of institutions.


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Research section: 
Lacea 2013 annual meeting
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