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Politics, Public Expenditure and the Evolution of Poverty in Africa 1920-2009

  • Sue Bowden
  • Paul Mosley


    (Department of Economics, The University of Sheffield)

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    We investigate the historical roots of poverty, with particular reference to the experience of Africa during the twentieth century. Like the recent studies by Acemoglu et al (2001, etc) we find that institutional inheritance is an important influence on current underdevelopment; but in addition, we argue that the influence of policies on institutions is highly significant, and that in Africa at least, a high representation of European settlers in land ownership and policy-making was a source of weakness, and not of strength. We argue this thesis, using mortality rates as a proxy for poverty levels, with reference to two settler colonies – Zimbabwe and Kenya – and two peasant export colonies – Uganda and Ghana. Our findings suggest that in Africa, settler-type political systems tended to produce highly unequal income distributions and, as a consequence, patterns of public expenditure and investment in human and infrastructural capital which were strongly biased against smallholder agriculture and thence against poverty reduction, whereas peasant-export type political systems produced more equal income distributions whose policy structures and, consequently, production functions were less biased against the poor. As a consequence, liberalisation during the 1980s and 90s produced asymmetric results, with poverty falling sharply in the ‘peasant export’ and rising in settler economies. These contrasts in the evolution of poverty in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, we argue, can only be understood by reference to differences between the settler and peasant export economies whose roots lie in political decisions taken a hundred years previously.

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    Paper provided by The University of Sheffield, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 2012003.

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    Length: 47 pages
    Date of creation: Jan 2012
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    Handle: RePEc:shf:wpaper:2012003
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    1. Desai, Meghnad, 1991. "Human development : Concepts and measurement," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 35(2-3), pages 350-357, April.
    2. Feinstein, Charles H., 1998. "Pessimism Perpetuated: Real Wages and the Standard of Living in Britain during and after the Industrial Revolution," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(03), pages 625-658, September.
    3. Nunn, Nathan, 2007. "Historical legacies: A model linking Africa's past to its current underdevelopment," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(1), pages 157-175, May.
    4. Bigsten, Arne, 1986. "Welfare and economic growth in Kenya, 1914-76," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 14(9), pages 1151-1160, September.
    5. Alexander Moradi, 2008. "Towards an Objective Account of Nutrition and Health in Colonial Kenya: A Study of Stature in African Army Recruits and Civilians, 1880-1980," CSAE Working Paper Series 2008-04, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    6. Dollar, David & Kraay, Aart, 2001. "Growth is good for the poor," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2587, The World Bank.
    7. Paul Mosley & Abrar Suleiman, 2007. "Aid, Agriculture and Poverty in Developing Countries," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 11(1), pages 139-158, 02.
    8. Paul Mosley, 2004. "Institutions And Politics In A Lewis-Type Growth Model," Manchester School, University of Manchester, vol. 72(6), pages 751-773, December.
    9. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2000. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," NBER Working Papers 7771, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. 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.
    11. Sarah Ssewanyana & Stephen D. Younger, 2008. "Infant Mortality in Uganda: Determinants, Trends and the Millennium Development Goals," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 17(1), pages 34-61, January.
    12. Nicholas Crafts, 1997. "Some dimensions of the 'quality of life' during the British industrial revolution," Economic History Working Papers 20349, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
    13. Alberto Alesina & Dani Rodrik, 1991. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," NBER Working Papers 3668, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Richard ANKER, 2006. "Poverty lines around the world: A new methodology and internationally comparable estimates," International Labour Review, International Labour Organization, vol. 145(4), pages 279-307, December.
    15. Anne Booth, 2007. "Night watchman, extractive, or developmental states? Some evidence from late colonial south-east Asia -super-1," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 60(2), pages 241-266, 05.
    16. Acemoglu,Daron & Robinson,James A., 2006. "Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521855266, September.
    17. Avner Offer, 1993. "The British empire, 1870-1914: a waste of money?," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 46(2), pages 215-238, 05.
    18. Alberto Alesina & Dani Rodrik, 1994. "Distributive Politics and Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 109(2), pages 465-490.
    19. Paul Mosley, 1982. "Agricultural Development and Government Policy in Settler Economies: The Case of Kenya and Southern Rhodesia, 1900–60," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 35(3), pages 390-408, 08.
    20. Sue Bowden & Blessing Chiripanhura & Paul Mosley, 2008. "Measuring and explaining poverty in six African countries: A long-period approach," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 20(8), pages 1049-1079.
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