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State History and Economic Development: Evidence from Six Millennia


  • Borcan, Oana

    () (Department of Economics, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University)

  • Olsson, Ola

    () (Department of Economics, School of Business, Economics and Law, Göteborg University)

  • Putterman, Louis

    () (Brown University)


All since the rise of the first civilizations, economic development has been closely intertwined with the evolution of states. In this paper, we contribute to the literature on state history and long-run economic development in four ways. First, we extend and complete the state history index from Bockstette, Chanda and Putterman (2002) by coding the experience with states from the first state origins, 3500 BCE, up until 2000 CE. Second, we explore empirically the relationship between time since transition to agriculture and state age, as well as subsequent state history. Our estimated unconditional correlation implies that a 1000 year earlier transition to agriculture is associated with a 470 years earlier emergence of state institutions. We show how this relationship differs between indigenously- and externally- originated states. Third, we show that the relationship between our extended state history index and current levels of economic development has the shape of an inverted u. The results reflect the fact that countries that were home to the oldest states, such as Iraq, Egypt and China, are poorer today than younger inheritors of their civilizations, such as Germany, Denmark and Japan. This pattern was already in place by 1500 CE and is robust to adjusting for migrations during the colonial era. Finally, we demonstrate a very close relationship between state formation and the adoption of writing.

Suggested Citation

  • Borcan, Oana & Olsson, Ola & Putterman, Louis, 2014. "State History and Economic Development: Evidence from Six Millennia," Working Papers in Economics 602, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:gunwpe:0602

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Pelle Ahlerup & Ola Olsson, 2012. "The roots of ethnic diversity," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 17(2), pages 71-102, June.
    2. Diego Comin & Bart Hobijn, 2010. "An Exploration of Technology Diffusion," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(5), pages 2031-2059, December.
    3. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1369-1401, December.
    4. Olsson, Ola & Paik, Christopher, 2013. "A Western Reversal Since the Neolithic? The Long-Run Impact of Early Agriculture," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 139, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    5. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2007. "The Neolithic Revolution and Contemporary Variations in Life Expectancy," Working Papers 2007-14, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    6. Arhan Ertan & Louis Putterman & Martin Fiszbein, 2012. "Determinants and Economic Consequences of Colonization: A Global Analysis," Working Papers 2012-5, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    7. Daniele, Vittorio, 2013. "Does the intelligence of populations determine the wealth of nations?," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 46(C), pages 27-37.
    8. Emilio Depetris-Chauvin, 2016. "State History and Contemporary Conflict: Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa," Documentos de Trabajo 475, Instituto de Economia. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile..
    9. repec:cup:apsrev:v:106:y:2012:i:03:p:471-494_00 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Ang, James B., 2013. "Are modern financial systems shaped by state antiquity?," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 37(11), pages 4038-4058.
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    Cited by:

    1. Michalopoulos, Stelios & Putterman, Louis & Weil, David, 2016. "The Influence of Ancestral Lifeways on Individual Economic Outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa," CEPR Discussion Papers 11366, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. repec:eee:exehis:v:64:y:2017:i:c:p:1-20 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Thilo R. Huning & Fabian Wahl, 2016. "You Reap What You Know: Observability of Soil Quality, and Political Fragmentation," Working Papers 0101, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    4. Dombi, Akos & Grigoriadis, Theocharis, 2017. "Ancestry, Diversity & Finance: Evidence from Transition Economies," Discussion Papers 2017/4, Free University Berlin, School of Business & Economics.
    5. Jonathan F. Schulz, 2016. "The Churches’ Bans on Consanguineous Marriages, Kin-networks and Democracy," Discussion Papers 2016-16, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
    6. Ertan, Arhan & Fiszbein, Martin & Putterman, Louis, 2016. "Who was colonized and when? A cross-country analysis of determinants," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 83(C), pages 165-184.
    7. Remi Jedwab & Adam Storeygard, "undated". "Economic and Political Factors in Infrastructure Investment: Evidence from Railroads and Roads in Africa 1960–2015," Working Papers 2017-3, The George Washington University, Institute for International Economic Policy.

    More about this item


    state history; comparative development;

    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth
    • O50 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - General

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