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Irrigation and Autocracy

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  • Jeanet Sinding Bentzen
  • Nicolai Kaarsen
  • Asger Moll Wingender

Abstract

Irrigated agriculture makes societies more likely to be ruled by authoritarian regimes. Ancient societies have long been thought to follow this pattern. We empirically show that irrigation affects political regimes even in the present. To avoid endogeneity, we use geographical and climatic variation to identify irrigation dependent societies. We find that countries whose agriculture depended on irrigation are about six points less democratic on the 21-point polity2 scale than countries where agriculture has been rainfed. We find qualitatively similar results across regions within countries. We argue that the effect has historical origins: irrigation allowed landed elites in arid areas to monopolize water and arable land. This made elites more powerful and better able to oppose democratization. Consistent with this conjecture, we show that irrigation dependence predicts land inequality both at the country level, and in premodern societies surveyed by ethnographers.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeanet Sinding Bentzen & Nicolai Kaarsen & Asger Moll Wingender, 2017. "Irrigation and Autocracy," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 15(1), pages 1-53.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:jeurec:v:15:y:2017:i:1:p:1-53.
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1111/jeea.12173
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    1. The impact of irrigation on democratization
      by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2012-08-29 20:01:00

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    Cited by:

    1. Yang, Xiaojun & Nie, Zihan & Qiu, Jianying & Tu, Qin, 2020. "Institutional preferences, social preferences and cooperation: Evidence from a lab-in-the-field experiment in rural China," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 87(C).
    2. Litina, Anastasia, 2012. "Unfavorable land endowment, cooperation, and reversal of fortune," MPRA Paper 39702, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Manuel Santos Silva & Amy C. Alexander & Stephan Klasen & Christian Welzel, 2017. "The Roots of Female Emancipation: From Perennial Cool Water via Pre-industrial Late Marriages to Post-industrial Gender Equality," Courant Research Centre: Poverty, Equity and Growth - Discussion Papers 241, Courant Research Centre PEG.
    4. Roberto Ricciuti & Adelaide Baronchelli, 2018. "Climate change, rice production, and migration in Vietnamese households," WIDER Working Paper Series 86, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    5. Mayshar, Joram & Moav, Omer & Neeman, Zvika, 2017. "Geography, Transparency, and Institutions," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 111(3), pages 622-636, August.
    6. Oded Galor & Marc Klemp, 2015. "Roots of Autocracy," Working Papers 2015-7, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    7. Fredriksson, Per G. & Gupta, Satyendra Kumar, 2020. "Irrigation and Culture: Gender Roles and Women’s Rights," GLO Discussion Paper Series 681, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    8. Anastasia Litina, 2016. "Natural land productivity, cooperation and comparative development," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 21(4), pages 351-408, December.
    9. Adelaide Baronchelli & Roberto Ricciuti, 2018. "Climate change, rice production, and migration in Vietnamese households," WIDER Working Paper Series wp-2018-86, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    10. Boranbay, Serra & Guerriero, Carmine, 2019. "Endogenous (in)formal institutions," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(4), pages 921-945.
    11. Nunn, Nathan, 2014. "Historical Development," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.),Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 7, pages 347-402, Elsevier.
    12. Johannes C. Buggle, 2017. "Irrigation, Collectivism and Long-Run Technological Divergence," Cahiers de Recherches Economiques du Département d'économie 17.06, Université de Lausanne, Faculté des HEC, Département d’économie.
    13. Jeanet Bentzen & Jacob Gerner Hariri & James A. Robinson, 2014. "The Indigenous Roots of Representative Democracy," Discussion Papers 14-30, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    14. Zhu, J., 2018. "The agricultural root of innovation in China," 2018 Conference, July 28-August 2, 2018, Vancouver, British Columbia 277219, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    15. Olsson, Ola & Paik, Christopher, 2015. "Long-Run Cultural Divergence: Evidence From the Neolithic Revolution," Working Papers in Economics 620, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
    16. Jimenez-Ayora, Pablo & Ulubaşoğlu, Mehmet Ali, 2015. "What underlies weak states? The role of terrain ruggedness," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 167-183.
    17. Lagerlöf, Nils-Petter, 2014. "Population, technology and fragmentation: The European miracle revisited," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 108(C), pages 87-105.
    18. Carl-Johan Dalgaard & Anne Sofie B. Knudsen & Pablo Selaya, 2020. "The bounty of the sea and long-run development," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 25(3), pages 259-295, September.
    19. James B. Ang, 2019. "Agricultural legacy and individualistic culture," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 24(4), pages 397-425, December.
    20. Thilo R. Huning & Fabian Wahl, 2016. "You Reap What You Know: Observability of Soil Quality, and Political Fragmentation," Working Papers 0101, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    21. Ömer Özak, 2018. "Distance to the pre-industrial technological frontier and economic development," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 23(2), pages 175-221, June.
    22. Xue, Melanie Meng & Koyama, Mark, 2018. "Autocratic Rule and Social Capital: Evidence from Imperial China," MPRA Paper 84249, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    23. Welzel, Christian, 2014. "Evolution, Empowerment, and Emancipation: How Societies Climb the Freedom Ladder," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 33-51.
    24. Nie, Zihan & Yang, Xiaojun & Tu, Qin, 2020. "Resource scarcity and cooperation: Evidence from a gravity irrigation system in China," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 135(C).
    25. Johannes C. Buggle, 2020. "Growing collectivism: irrigation, group conformity and technological divergence," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 25(2), pages 147-193, June.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • N50 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment

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