Big Push or Big Grab? Railways, Government Activism and Export Growth in Latin America, 1865-1913
Railways were one of the main engines of the Latin American trade boom before 1914. Railway construction often required financial support from local governments, which depended on their fiscal capacity. But since the main government revenues were trade-related, this generated a two-way feedback between government revenues and railways with a potential for multiple equilibria. The empirical tests in this paper support the hypothesis of a positive two-way relationship. The main implication of our analysis is that the build-up of state capacity was a necessary condition for railway expansion and, given the importance of the export sector in these economies, for economic growth and divergence in the region.
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