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The reversal of fortune thesis reconsidered

Listed author(s):
  • Bandyopadhyay, Sanghamitra
  • Green, Elliott D.

Acemoglu, Johnson, & Robinson (2002) have claimed that the world income distribution underwent a "Reversal of Fortune" from 1500 to the present, whereby formerly rich countries in what is now the developing world became poor while poor ones grew rich. We question their analysis with regard to both of their proxies for pre-modern income, namely urbanization and population density. First, an alternative measure of urbanization with more observations generates a positive (but not significant) correlation between pre-modern and contemporary income. Second, we show that their measure of population density as a proxy is highly flawed inasmuch as it does not properly measure density on arable land, and when corrected with better data the relationship is no longer robust. At best our results demonstrate a Reversal of Fortune only for the four neo-Europes of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States; at worst, we show no Reversal for other former colonies.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/41260/
File Function: Open access version.
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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library in its series LSE Research Online Documents on Economics with number 41260.

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Length: 28 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2010
Handle: RePEc:ehl:lserod:41260
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  1. Sambit Bhattacharyya, 2009. "Root Causes of African Underdevelopment," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 18(5), pages 745-780, November.
  2. Elise Huillery, 2009. "History Matters: The Long-Term Impact of Colonial Public Investments in French West Africa," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 176-215, April.
  3. Moradi, Alexander, 2009. "Towards an Objective Account of Nutrition and Health in Colonial Kenya: A Study of Stature in African Army Recruits and Civilians, 1880–1980," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(03), pages 719-754, September.
  4. Bockstette, Valerie & Chanda, Areendam & Putterman, Louis, 2002. "States and Markets: The Advantage of an Early Start," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 7(4), pages 347-369, December.
  5. Olsson, Ola & Hibbs, Douglas Jr., 2005. "Biogeography and long-run economic development," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 49(4), pages 909-938, May.
  6. William Easterly & Ross Levine, 1997. "Africa's Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1203-1250.
  7. David E. Bloom & Jeffrey D. Sachs, 1998. "Geography, Demography, and Economic Growth in Africa," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 29(2), pages 207-296.
  8. Emily Oster, 2004. "Witchcraft, Weather and Economic Growth in Renaissance Europe," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 215-228, Winter.
  9. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2002. "Reversal of Fortune: Geography and Institutions in the Making of the Modern World Income Distribution," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1231-1294.
  10. Easterly, William & Levine, Ross, 2003. "Tropics, germs, and crops: how endowments influence economic development," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 3-39, January.
  11. Long, Jason, 2005. "Rural-Urban Migration and Socioeconomic Mobility in Victorian Britain," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(01), pages 1-35, March.
  12. Gareth Austin, 2008. "The 'reversal of fortune' thesis and the compression of history: Perspectives from African and comparative economic history," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 20(8), pages 996-1027.
  13. Bertocchi, Graziella & Canova, Fabio, 2002. "Did colonization matter for growth?: An empirical exploration into the historical causes of Africa's underdevelopment," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(10), pages 1851-1871, December.
  14. Annable, James E, Jr, 1972. "Internal Migration and Urban Unemployment in Low-income Countries: A Problem in Simultaneous Equations," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 24(3), pages 399-412, November.
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