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Was the Wealth of Nations Determined in 1000 B.C.?

  • Diego A. Comin


    (Harvard Business School, Business, Government and the International Economy Unit)

  • William Easterly


    (Leonard N. Stern School of Business - Department of Economics)

  • Erick Gong


    (University of California, Berkeley - Department of Agricultural & Resource Economics)

We assemble a dataset on technology adoption in 1000 BC, 0 AD, and 1500 AD for the predecessors to today's nation states. We find that this very old history of technology adoption is surprisingly significant for today's national development outcomes. Our strong and robust results are for 1500 AD determining per capita income today. We find technological persistence across long epochs: from 1000 BC to 0 AD, from 0 AD to 1500 AD, and from 1500 AD to the present. Although the data allow only some suggestive tests of rival hypotheses to explain long?run technological persistence, we find the evidence to be most consistent with a model of endogenous technology adoption where the cost of adopting new technologies declines sufficiently with the current level of adoption. The evidence is less consistent with a dominant role for population as predicted by the semi?endogenous growth models or for country-level factors like culture, genes or institutions.

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Paper provided by Harvard Business School in its series Harvard Business School Working Papers with number 09-052.

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Length: 66 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:09-052
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  1. Gallup, J.L. & Sachs, J.D. & Mullinger, A., 1999. "Geography and Economic Development," Papers 1, Chicago - Graduate School of Business.
  2. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2010. "The "Out of Africa" Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development," Center for Development Economics 2010-03, Department of Economics, Williams College, revised Dec 2012.
  3. 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 347-69, December.
  4. Rodrik, Dani & Subramanian, Arvind & Trebbi, Francesco, 2002. "Institutions Rule: The Primacy of Institutions Over Geography and Integration in Economic Development," CEPR Discussion Papers 3643, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. repec:oup:qjecon:v:108:y:1993:i:3:p:681-716 is not listed on IDEAS
  6. Mokyr, Joel, 2005. "Long-Term Economic Growth and the History of Technology," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 17, pages 1113-1180 Elsevier.
  7. Diego Comin & Bart Hobijn, 2010. "An Exploration of Technology Diffusion," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(5), pages 2031-59, December.
  8. Wacziarg, Romain & Spolaore, Enrico, 2006. "The Diffusion of Development," Research Papers 1898r1, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  9. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 2000. "Population, Technology, and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation to the Demographic Transition and Beyond," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 806-828, September.
  10. Galor, Oded, 2005. "From Stagnation to Growth: Unified Growth Theory," Handbook of Economic Growth, in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 4, pages 171-293 Elsevier.
  11. John Luke Gallup & Jeffrey D. Sachs & Andrew Mellinger, 1999. "Geography and Economic Development," CID Working Papers 1, Center for International Development at Harvard University.
  12. repec:oup:qjecon:v:114:y:1999:i:1:p:83-116 is not listed on IDEAS
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. John Luke Gallup & Jeffrey D. Sachs & Andrew D. Mellinger, 1999. "Geography and Economic Development," International Regional Science Review, , vol. 22(2), pages 179-232, August.
  16. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "Reversal of Fortune: Geography and Institutions in the Making of the Modern World Income Distribution," NBER Working Papers 8460, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Rosenberg,Nathan, 1994. "Exploring the Black Box," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521459556.
  18. Galor, Oded & Weil, David, 1998. "Population, Technology and Growth: From the Malthusian Regime to the Demographic Transition," CEPR Discussion Papers 1981, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  19. Diego Comin & Bart Hobijn, 2003. "Cross-country technology adoption: making the theories face the facts," Staff Reports 169, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  20. repec:oup:qjecon:v:117:y:2002:i:4:p:1231-1294 is not listed on IDEAS
  21. Diego Comin & Bart Hobijn, 2009. "Lobbies and Technology Diffusion," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(2), pages 229-244, May.
  22. 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.
  23. Mokyr, Joel, 2005. "The Intellectual Origins of Modern Economic Growth," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(02), pages 285-351, June.
  24. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2008. "Human Genetic Diversity and Comparative Economic Development," 2008 Meeting Papers 617, Society for Economic Dynamics.
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