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Colonial Origins of Inequality in Hispanic America? Some Reflections Based on New Empirical Evidence

  • Dobado González, Rafael
  • García Montero, Héctor

This paper attempts at contributing to the ongoing debate on the historical roots of the high economic inequality of contemporary Iberian America. Basically empirical, our approach departs from mainstream scholarship. We show new data on wages and heights in several viceroyalties that: 1) suggest relatively medium to high levels of material welfare among the commoners in Bourbon Hispanic America; 2) allow us to build indexes of economic inequality. An international comparison of those indexes casts some doubts on the widely accepted view that Viceroyal America’s economy was exclusively based on extremely unequal or extractive institutions, as it has been popularized by the influential works by Engerman and Sokoloff (1994, 2002, 2005), Acemoglu et al. (2002).

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Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal Revista de Historia Económica.

Volume (Year): 28 (2010)
Issue (Month): 02 (September)
Pages: 253-277

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Handle: RePEc:cup:reveco:v:28:y:2010:i:02:p:253-277_00
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  9. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "Reversal of Fortune: Geography and Institutions in the Making of the Modern World Income Distribution," NBER Working Papers 8460, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. L Angeles, 2005. "Income Inequality and Colonialism," Centre for Growth and Business Cycle Research Discussion Paper Series 66, Economics, The Univeristy of Manchester.
  11. A'Hearn, Brian & Komlos, John, 2003. "Improvements in Maximum Likelihood Estimators of Truncated Normal Samples with Prior Knowledge of σ," Discussion Papers in Economics 51, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  12. Rafael Dobado González & Hector García, 2009. "Neither so low nor so short! Wages and heights in eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries colonial Hispanic America," Working Papers del Instituto Complutense de Estudios Internacionales 0914, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Instituto Complutense de Estudios Internacionales.
  13. Margo, Robert A. & Steckel, Richard H., 1983. "Heights of Native-Born Whites During the Antebellum Period," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(01), pages 167-174, March.
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  15. Matthew J. Baker & Christa N. Brunnschweiler & Erwin H. Bulte, 2008. "Did History Breed Inequality? Colonial Factor Endowments and Modern Income Distribution," CER-ETH Economics working paper series 08/86, CER-ETH - Center of Economic Research (CER-ETH) at ETH Zurich.
  16. Baten, Joerg & Pelger, Ines & Twrdek, Linda, 2009. "The anthropometric history of Argentina, Brazil and Peru during the 19th and early 20th century," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 7(3), pages 319-333, December.
  17. A'Hearn, Brian, 2003. "Anthropometric Evidence on Living Standards in Northern Italy, 1730 1860," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 63(02), pages 351-381, June.
  18. Prados de la Escosura, Leandro, 2007. "Lost decades? : independence and latin America’s falling behind, 1820-1870," IFCS - Working Papers in Economic History.WH wp07-18, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Instituto Figuerola.
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  20. Komlos, John, 2005. "On English Pygmies and Giants: the Physical Stature of English Youth in the late-18th and early-19th Centuries," Discussion Papers in Economics 573, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
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  23. Bruhn, Miriam & Gallego, Francisco A., 2008. "Good, bad, and ugly colonial activities : studying development across the Americas," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4641, The World Bank.
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  26. Rafael Dobado González, 2009. "Herencia colonial y desarrollo económico en Iberoamérica," Documentos de trabajo de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales 09-04, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales.
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