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Cultural Diversity, Geographical Isolation, and the Origin of the Wealth of Nations

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Abstract

This research argues that variations in the interplay between cultural assimilation and cultural diffusion have played a signi.cant role in giving rise to differential patterns of economic development across the globe. Societies that were geographically less vulnerable to cultural diffusion benefited from enhanced assimilation, lower cultural diversity, and more intense accumulation of society-specific human capital. Thus, they operated more efficiently with respect to their production-possibility frontiers and flourished in the technological paradigm that characterized the agricultural stage of development. The lack of cultural diffusion and its manifestation in cultural rigidity, however, diminished the ability of these societies to adapt to a new technological paradigm, which delayed their industrialization and, hence, their take-off to a state of sustained economic growth. The theory thus contributes to the understanding of the advent of divergence and overtaking in the process of development. Consistently with the theory, the empirical analysis establishes that (i) geographical isolation prevalent in pre-industrial times (i.e., prior to the advent of airborne transportation technology) has had a persistent negative impact on the extent of contemporary cultural diversity; (ii) pre-industrial geographical isolation had a positive impact on economic development in the agricultural stage but has had a negative impact on income per capita in the course of industrialization; and (iii) cultural diversity, as determined exogenously by pre-industrial geographical isolation, has had a positive impact on economic development in the process of industrialization.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, Williams College in its series Center for Development Economics with number 2011-10.

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Length: 92 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2011
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Handle: RePEc:wil:wilcde:2011-10

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Keywords: Cultural assimilation; Cultural diffusion; Cultural diversity; Geographical isolation; Economic development; Agriculture; Industrialization;

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Cited by:
  1. Davide Ticchi & Thierry Verdier & Andrea Vindigni, 2013. "Democracy, Dictatorship and the Cultural Transmission of Political Values," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 300, Collegio Carlo Alberto.
  2. Enrico Spolaore & Romain Wacziarg, 2012. "How Deep Are the Roots of Economic Development?," NBER Working Papers 18130, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Alberto Alesina & Johann Harnoss & Hillel Rapoport, 2013. "Birthplace Diversity and Economic Prosperity," NBER Working Papers 18699, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Olsson, Ola & Paik, Christopher, 2013. "A Western Reversal Since the Neolithic? The Long-Run Impact of Early Agriculture," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 139, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  5. Anastasia Litina, 2012. "Unfavorable Land Endowment, Cooperation, and Reversal of Fortune," CREA Discussion Paper Series 12-07, Center for Research in Economic Analysis, University of Luxembourg.
  6. Enrico Spolaore & Romain Wacziarg, 2012. "War and Relatedness," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0769, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  7. Casey, Gregory P. & Owen, Ann L., 2014. "Inequality and Fractionalization," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 32-50.

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