History without Evidence: Latin American Inequality since 1491
AbstractMost analysts of the modern Latin American economy hold to a pessimistic belief in historical persistence -- they believe that Latin America has always had very high levels of inequality, suggesting it will be hard for modern social policy to create a more egalitarian society. This paper argues that this conclusion is not supported by what little evidence we have. The persistence view is based on an historical literature which has made little or no effort to be comparative. Modern analysts see a more unequal Latin America compared with Asia and the rich post-industrial nations and then assume that this must always have been true. Indeed, some have argued that high inequality appeared very early in the post-conquest Americas, and that this fact supported rent-seeking and anti-growth institutions which help explain the disappointing growth performance we observe there even today. This paper argues to the contrary. Compared with the rest of the world, inequality was not high in pre-conquest 1491, nor was it high in the postconquest decades following 1492. Indeed, it was not even high in the mid-19th century just prior Latin America's belle époque. It only became high thereafter. Historical persistence in Latin American inequality is a myth.
Download InfoIf you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14766.
Date of creation: Mar 2009
Date of revision:
Contact details of provider:
Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Web page: http://www.nber.org
More information through EDIRC
Find related papers by JEL classification:
- D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
- N16 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Latin America; Caribbean
- N36 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Latin America; Caribbean
- O15 - Economic Development, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:
- NEP-ALL-2009-03-07 (All new papers)
- NEP-DEV-2009-03-07 (Development)
- NEP-HIS-2009-03-07 (Business, Economic & Financial History)
- NEP-LTV-2009-03-07 (Unemployment, Inequality & Poverty)
- NEP-SEA-2009-03-07 (South East Asia)
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Kenneth L. Sokoloff & Stanley L. Engerman, 2000. "Institutions, Factor Endowments, and Paths of Development in the New World," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 217-232, Summer.
- Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2008.
"Globalization and the Great Divergence: Terms of Trade Booms and Volatility in the Poor Periphery 1782-1913,"
08-07, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC).
- Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2008. "Globalization and the Great Divergence: Terms of Trade Booms and Volatility in the Poor Periphery 1782-1913," NBER Working Papers 13841, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Ravallion, Martin & Chen, Shaohua & Sangraula, Prem, 2007.
"New evidence on the urbanization of global poverty,"
Policy Research Working Paper Series
4199, The World Bank.
- Martin Ravallion & Shaohua Chen & Prem Sangraula, 2007. "New Evidence on the Urbanization of Global Poverty," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 33(4), pages 667-701.
- Goldin, Claudia & Margo, Robert A, 1992.
"The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-century,"
The Quarterly Journal of Economics,
MIT Press, vol. 107(1), pages 1-34, February.
- Claudia Goldin & Robert A. Margo, 1991. "The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid- Century," NBER Working Papers 3817, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Clingingsmith, David & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 2008. "Deindustrialization in 18th and 19th century India: Mughal decline, climate shocks and British industrial ascent," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 209-234, July.
- Milanovic,Branko & Lindert, Peter H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 2007.
"Measuring ancient inequality,"
Policy Research Working Paper Series
4412, The World Bank.
- Jeffrey G. Williamson & Branko Milanovic & Peter H. Lindert, 2008. "Measuring Ancient Inequality," Working Papers 08-06, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC).
- Branko Milanovic & Peter H. Lindert & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2007. "Measuring Ancient Inequality," NBER Working Papers 13550, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Milanovic, Branko & Lindert, Peter & Williamson, Jeffrey, 2007. "Measuring Ancient Inequality," MPRA Paper 5388, University Library of Munich, Germany.
- Bates, Robert H. & Coatsworth, John H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 2007. "Lost Decades: Postindependence Performance in Latin America and Africa," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 67(04), pages 917-943, December.
- Studer, Roman, 2008.
"India and the Great Divergence: Assessing the Efficiency of Grain Markets in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century India,"
The Journal of Economic History,
Cambridge University Press, vol. 68(02), pages 393-437, June.
- Roman Studer, 2007. "India and the Great Divergence: Assessing the Efficiency of Grain Markets in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century India," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _068, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
- Lindert,Peter H., 2004. "Growing Public," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521821759, December.
- Campante, Filipe & Do, Quoc-Anh, 2007. "Inequality, Redistribution, and Population," Working Paper Series rwp07-046, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
- Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1999. "Real wages, inequality and globalization in latin america before 1940," Revista de Historia Económica, Cambridge University Press, vol. 17(S1), pages 101-142, March.
- Hoffman, Philip T. & Jacks, David S. & Levin, Patricia A. & Lindert, Peter H., 2002. "Real Inequality In Europe Since 1500," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(02), pages 322-355, June.
- Aldo Musacchio & André Carlos Martínez Fritscher & Martina Viarengo, 2010. "Colonial Institutions, Trade Shocks, and the Diffusion of Elementary Education in Brazil, 1889-1930," Harvard Business School Working Papers 10-075, Harvard Business School, revised Dec 2012.
- André Martínez & Martina Viarengo & Aldo Musacchio, 2010.
"The Great Leap Forward: The Political Economy of Education in Brazil, 1889-1930,"
2010-18, Banco de México.
- André Martínez-Fritscher & Aldo Musacchio & Martina Viarengo, 2010. "The Great Leap Forward: The Political Economy Of Education In Brazil, 1889-1930," Working Papers 03-2010, Universidade de São Paulo, Faculdade de Economia, Administração e Contabilidade de Ribeirão Preto.
- Popov, V., 2012. "Why the West got Rich Before Other Countries and Why China is Catching Up With the West Today? New Answer to the Old Question," Journal of the New Economic Association, New Economic Association, vol. 15(3), pages 35-64.
- Summerhill, William, 2010. "Colonial Institutions, Slavery, Inequality, and Development: Evidence from São Paulo, Brazil," MPRA Paper 22162, University Library of Munich, Germany.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ().
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.