A Western Reversal Since the Neolithic? The Long-Run Impact of Early Agriculture
While it is widely believed that regions which experienced a transition to Neolithic agriculture early also become institutionally and economically more advanced, many indicators suggest that within the Western agricultural core (including Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia), communities that adopted agriculture early in fact have weaker institutions and poorly functioning economies today. In the current paper, we attempt to integrate both of these trends in a coherent historical framework. Our main argument is that countries that made the transition early also tended to develop autocratic societies with social inequality and pervasive rent seeking, whereas later adopters were more likely to have egalitarian societies with stronger private property rights. These different institutional trajectories implied a gradual shift of dominance from the early civilizations towards regions in the periphery. We document this relative reversal within the Western core by showing a robust negative correlation between years since transition to agriculture and contemporary levels of income and institutional development, on both the national and the regional level. Our results further indicate that the reversal had become manifest already before the era of European colonization.
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