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Why are poor countries poor?

  • Daniel Cohen; Marcelo Soto

We attempt to explain why standard explanations of the poverty of nations are unsatisfactory. We first argue that human capital is low in poor countries because its production has increasing returns with respect to life expectancy. We then show that the reason why capital does not flow to poor countries (the Lucas paradox) can readily be explained once market prices rather than PPP prices are used to assess the return to physical capital: the return to capital in poor countries is not higher than in the rich world in spite of its relative scarcity. We finally argue that PPP calculations bias downwards the measured TFP of poor countries, which may in part explain their lower productivity. The message of hope is that education can shoot up as life expectancy increases. A higher level of human capital would appreciate the real exchange rate through a Balassa-Samuelson effect, thus raising the profitability physical capital. This in turn would encourage foreign capital to flow to developing countries

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Paper provided by Econometric Society in its series Econometric Society 2004 Latin American Meetings with number 75.

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Date of creation: 11 Aug 2004
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Handle: RePEc:ecm:latm04:75
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  1. Peter J. Klenow & Mark Bils, 2000. "Does Schooling Cause Growth?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1160-1183, December.
  2. Acemoglu, Daron & Zilibotti, Fabrizio, 2000. "Productivity Differences," CEPR Discussion Papers 2498, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Alan Krueger & Mikael Lindahl, 2000. "Education for Growth: Why and For Whom?," Working Papers 808, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  4. Young, Alwyn, 1995. "The Tyranny of Numbers: Confronting the Statistical Realities of the East Asian Growth Experience," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(3), pages 641-80, August.
  5. Easterly, William & Kremer, Michael & Pritchett, Lant & Summers, Lawrence H., 1993. "Good policy or good luck?: Country growth performance and temporary shocks," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 459-483, December.
  6. Coe, David T & Helpman, Elhanan & Hoffmaister, Alexander, 1995. "North-South R&D Spillovers," CEPR Discussion Papers 1133, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Robert E. Hall & Charles I. Jones, 1999. "Why Do Some Countries Produce So Much More Output per Worker than Others?," NBER Working Papers 6564, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Lucas, Robert Jr., 1988. "On the mechanics of economic development," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 3-42, July.
  9. Daniel Cohen & Marcelo Soto, 2007. "Growth and human capital: good data, good results," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 12(1), pages 51-76, March.
  10. Jan Willem Gunning & Paul Collier, 1999. "Explaining African Economic Performance," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 37(1), pages 64-111, March.
  11. Peter Klenow & Andrés Rodríguez-Clare, 1997. "The Neoclassical Revival in Growth Economics: Has It Gone Too Far?," NBER Chapters, in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1997, Volume 12, pages 73-114 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Easterly, William, 1999. "The ghost of financing gap: testing the growth model used in the international financial institutions," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(2), pages 423-438, December.
  13. Devarajan, Shantayanan & Easterley, William R. & Pack, Howard, 2001. "Is investment in Africa too low or too high : macro and micro evidence," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2519, The World Bank.
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