Was the Poverty of Africa Determined in 1000 BC?

William Easterly, Aidwatch, July 15, 2010

The usual development conversation about determinants of per capita income revolves around modern choices of institutions or economic policies. But what if history is the main determinant of development today?

A paper by Diego Comin, Erick Gong, and myself was just published in the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics. We collected crude but informative data on the state of technology in various parts of the world in 1000 BC, 0 AD, and 1500 AD.

1500 AD technology is a particularly powerful predictor of per capita income today. 78 percent of the difference in income today between sub-Saharan Africa and Western Europe is explained by technology differences that already existed in 1500 AD–even BEFORE the slave trade and colonialism.

Moreover, these technological differences had already appeared by 1000 BC. The state of technology in 1000 BC has a strong correlation with technology 2500 years later, in 1500 AD.

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[“Was the Wealth of Nations Determined in 1000 BC?” by Diego Comin, William Easterly, and Erick Gong can be downloaded as a PDF file here.]

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