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Questionable Inference on the Power of Pre-Colonial Institutions in Africa

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  • Denis Cogneau

    () (PSE - Paris-Jourdan Sciences Economiques - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - INRA - Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres, PSE - Paris School of Economics - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres - UP1 - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - INRAE - Institut National de Recherche pour l’Agriculture, l’Alimentation et l’Environnement, IRD - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement)

  • Yannick Dupraz

    (PSE - Paris-Jourdan Sciences Economiques - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - INRA - Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres, PSE - Paris School of Economics - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris - PSL - Université Paris sciences et lettres - UP1 - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - INRAE - Institut National de Recherche pour l’Agriculture, l’Alimentation et l’Environnement)

Abstract

In their paper "Pre-Colonial Ethnic Institutions and Contemporary African Development" [Econometrica 81(1): 113-152], Stelios Michalopoulos and Elias Papaioannou claim that they document a strong relationship between pre-colonial political centralization and regional development, by combining Murdock's ethnographic atlas (1967) with light density at night measures at the local level. We argue that their estimates do not properly take into account population effects. Among lowly populated areas, luminosity is dominated by noise, so that with linear specifications the coefficient of population density is biased downwards. We reveal that the identification of the effect of ethnic centralization very much relies on these areas. We implement a variety of models where the effect of population density is non-linear, and/or where the bounded or truncated nature of luminosity is taken into account. We conclude that the impact of ethnic-level political centralization on development is all contained in its long-term correlation with population density. We also abstract from the luminosity-population nexus by analyzing survey data for 33 countries. We show that individual-level outcomes like access to utilities, education, asset ownership etc. are not correlated with ethnic-level political centralization.

Suggested Citation

  • Denis Cogneau & Yannick Dupraz, 2014. "Questionable Inference on the Power of Pre-Colonial Institutions in Africa," Working Papers halshs-01018548, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:wpaper:halshs-01018548
    Note: View the original document on HAL open archive server: https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01018548
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Denis Cogneau, 2016. "History, Data and Economics for Africa: Can We Get Them Less Wrong?: Reply to Morten Jerven's ‘Trapped between tragedies and miracles: Misunderstanding African economic growth’," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 34(6), pages 895-899, November.
    2. Mamo, Nemera & Bhattacharyya, Sambit & Moradi, Alexander, 2019. "Intensive and extensive margins of mining and development: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 28-49.
    3. Dreher, Axel & Fuchs, Andreas & Hodler, Roland & Parks, Bradley C. & Raschky, Paul A. & Tierney, Michael J., 2015. "Aid on Demand: African Leaders and the Geography of China's Foreign Assistance," CEPR Discussion Papers 10704, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Christophe Muller & Pierre Pecher, 2018. "Transborder Ethnic Kin and Local Prosperity: Evidence form Night-Time Light Intensity in Africa," LIDAM Discussion Papers IRES 2018006, Université catholique de Louvain, Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (IRES).
    5. Dreher, Axel & Fuchs, Andreas & Hodler, Roland & Parks, Bradley C. & Raschky, Paul A. & Tierney, Michael J., 2021. "Is Favoritism a Threat to Chinese Aid Effectiveness? A Subnational Analysis of Chinese Development Projects," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 139(C).
    6. Ahlerup, Pelle & Baskaran, Thushyanthan & Bigsten, Arne, 2017. "Regional development and national identity in sub-Saharan Africa," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 622-643.
    7. Archibong, Belinda, 2019. "Explaining divergence in the long-term effects of precolonial centralization on access to public infrastructure services in Nigeria," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 121(C), pages 123-140.
    8. Nemera Gebeyehu Mamo, 2018. "Essays on natural resources in Africa: local economic development, multi-ethnic coalitions and armed conflict," Economics PhD Theses 0518, Department of Economics, University of Sussex Business School.
    9. Provenzano, Sandro, 2020. "Isolated and Poor: the cost of remoteness from the capital city," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 105688, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

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