Might Australia Have Failed? Endowments, Institutions and Contingency
Some of the hypotheses regarding the role of institutions in long-run growth which have recently been advanced in the growth and history literatures imply that, given its initial conditions, Australia in the nineteenth century should have acquired quite different economic (and political) institutions from those it did, leading in turn to lower long-term growth rates than it actually achieved. In accounting for why this did not occur in Australia, it is suggested here that the emphasis in these literatures on both initial conditions and on institutional persistence is misplaced relative to the importance of institutional innovation, adaptation, and even disappearance. The mechanisms linking initial endowments and institutional change in Australia are complex, with timing, sequence, and chance playing a prominent role. The economic institutions examined in this paper are the markets for convict and indentured labor, and the property rights in - and conditions of access to - the abundant natural resources (land and gold).
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