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Distance to the Technological Frontier and Economic Development

This research proposes that the geographical distance from the location of the pre-industrial technological frontier has a non-monotonic and persistent effect on development. While remoteness from this frontier diminished imitation, it fostered the emergence of a culture conducive to innovation and knowledge creation, which has persisted into the modern era even after barriers to movement dissipated. I construct a novel measure of geographical distance in the pre-industrial era, which measures the travel time along the optimal route between any two locations. Using this measure I show that the distance to the technological frontier in the past has a robust and persistent U-shaped relation with measures of economic development both in the pre-industrial and modern eras. Furthermore, a distance of 6 weeks of travel, which is roughly the distance from Ethiopia to the UK, is the least desirable distance from the technological frontier in the pre-industrial era as it generates the largest adverse effects on contemporary development.

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Paper provided by Southern Methodist University, Department of Economics in its series Departmental Working Papers with number 1201.

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Date of creation: Jan 2012
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Handle: RePEc:smu:ecowpa:1201
Contact details of provider: Postal: Department of Economics, P.O. Box 750496, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 75275-0496
Phone: 214-768-2715
Fax: 214-768-1821
Web page: http://www.smu.edu/economics

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  1. Giuliano, Paola & Spilimbergo, Antonio & Tonon, Giovanni, 2006. "Genetic, Cultural and Geographical Distances," CEPR Discussion Papers 5807, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2010. "The "Out of Africa" Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development," Department of Economics Working Papers 2013-10, Department of Economics, Williams College, revised Dec 2012.
  3. Fearon, James D, 2003. " Ethnic and Cultural Diversity by Country," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 195-222, June.
  4. Oded Galor & Quamrul Ashraf, 2007. "Cultural Assimilation, Cultural Diffusion and the Origin of the Wealth of Nations," Working Papers 2007-3, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  5. Ronald Findlay & Kevin H. O'Rourke, 2007. "Preface to Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium
    [Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium]
    ," Introductory Chapters, Princeton University Press.
  6. Smith, Adam, 1776. "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number smith1776.
  7. Daron Acemoglu & Gino Gancia & Fabrizio Zilibotti, 2010. "Competing engines of growth: Innovation and standardization," Economics Working Papers 1358, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Aug 2010.
  8. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2008. "Human Genetic Diversity and Comparative Economic Development," 2008 Meeting Papers 617, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  9. Patricia Beeson & Tara Watson & Lara Shore-Sheppard, 2010. "Local Fiscal Policies and Urban Wage Structures," Department of Economics Working Papers 2010-05, Department of Economics, Williams College.
  10. Puga, Diego & Trefler, Daniel, 2010. "Wake up and smell the ginseng: International trade and the rise of incremental innovation in low-wage countries," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(1), pages 64-76, January.
  11. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor & Omer Ozak, 2009. "Isolation and Development," Working Papers 2009-9, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  12. Oded Galor & Andrew Mountford, 2008. "Trading Population for Productivity: Theory and Evidence," Working Papers 2008-2, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  13. Ronald Findlay & Kevin H. O'Rourke, 2007. "Power and Plenty: Trade, War and the World Economy in the Second Millennium (Preface)," Trinity Economics Papers tep0107, Trinity College Dublin, Department of Economics.
  14. Ronald Findlay & Kevin H. O'Rourke, 2007. "Introduction to Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium
    [Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium]
    ," Introductory Chapters, Princeton University Press.
  15. Tann, Jennifer, 1978. "Marketing Methods in the International Steam Engine Market: The Case of Boulton and Watt," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 38(02), pages 363-391, June.
  16. Robert C. Feenstra & James R. Markusen & Andrew K. Rose, 2001. "Using the gravity equation to differentiate among alternative theories of trade," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 34(2), pages 430-447, May.
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