IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Colonialism, Property Rights and the Modern World Income Distribution


  • Fails, Matthew D.
  • Krieckhaus, Jonathan


Influential studies by Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson claim that colonial legacies explain the origins of development-promoting property rights and thus account for the modern world income distribution. Specifically, they argue that European colonial powers engineered a global ‘reversal of fortune’, bringing property rights and prosperity to relatively uninhabited colonies while imposing inefficient institutions on locales with less potential for settlement. We re-evaluate their theoretical arguments and empirical findings and come to a different conclusion. We concur that British colonialism dramatically restructured four colonies, resulting in phenomenal economic success. For the majority of the world, however, colonialism had no discernible effect on property rights. We conclude that contemporary development studies must find another explanation for the modern world income distribution.

Suggested Citation

  • Fails, Matthew D. & Krieckhaus, Jonathan, 2010. "Colonialism, Property Rights and the Modern World Income Distribution," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 40(3), pages 487-508, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:bjposi:v:40:y:2010:i:03:p:487-508_00

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: link to article abstract page
    Download Restriction: no


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Mogens Justesen & Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard, 2013. "Institutional interactions and economic growth: the joint effects of property rights, veto players and democratic capital," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 157(3), pages 449-474, December.
    2. Lee, Alexander & Paine, Jack, 2019. "British colonialism and democracy: Divergent inheritances and diminishing legacies," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(3), pages 487-503.
    3. David Y. Albouy, 2012. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(6), pages 3059-3076, October.
    4. Broms, Rasmus, 2017. "Colonial Revenue Extraction and Modern Day Government Quality in the British Empire," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 269-280.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cup:bjposi:v:40:y:2010:i:03:p:487-508_00. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Keith Waters). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.