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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
Date of revision:
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. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor & Omer Ozak, 2009. "Isolation and Development," Working Papers 2009-9, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  2. 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.
  3. Ashraf, Quamrul & Galor, Oded, 2007. "Cultural Assimilation, Cultural Diffusion and the Origin of the Wealth of Nations," CEPR Discussion Papers 6444, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2013. "The 'Out of Africa' Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(1), pages 1-46, February.
  5. Galor, Oded & Mountford, Andrew, 2008. "Trading Population for Productivity: Theory and Evidence," CEPR Discussion Papers 6678, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Ashraf, Quamrul & Galor, Oded, 2012. "Cultural Diversity, Geographical Isolation, and the Origin of the Wealth of Nations," IZA Discussion Papers 6319, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  7. Diego Puga & Daniel Trefler, 2007. "Wake up and Smell the Ginseng: International Trade and the Rise of Incremental Innovation in Low-Wage Countries," Development Working Papers 222, Centro Studi Luca d\'Agliano, University of Milano.
  8. Enrico Spolaore & Romain Wacziarg, 2007. "The Diffusion of Development," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0704, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
  9. Fearon, James D, 2003. " Ethnic and Cultural Diversity by Country," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 195-222, June.
  10. Acemoglu, Daron & Gancia, Gino & Zilibotti, Fabrizio, 2012. "Competing engines of growth: Innovation and standardization," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 147(2), pages 570-601.e3.
  11. 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.
  12. Giuliano, Paola & Spilimbergo, Antonio & Tonon, Giovanni, 2006. "Genetic, Cultural and Geographical Distances," CEPR Discussion Papers 5807, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  13. 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.
  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. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2008. "Human Genetic Diversity and Comparative Economic Development," 2008 Meeting Papers 617, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  18. Ronald Findlay & Kevin H. O'Rourke, 2007. "Power and Plenty: Trade, War and the World Economy in the Second Millennium (Preface)," The Institute for International Integration Studies Discussion Paper Series iiisdp205, IIIS.
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