Why the US and not Brazil? Old Elites and the Development of a Modern Economy
Old elites can block changes, but not all do. Why is it that stronger elites may allow more changes than weaker elites? Why do economies with larger stocks of natural resources not grow faster than economies poorer in natural resources? We argue that old elites hold some power to extract rents from the economy. Whereas old sectors (i.e. agriculture or extraction of natural resources) are not affected by rent extraction, modern sectors require investments that do react to rent extraction. At the same time, a modern sector relies on networks of firms. These structures form the basis of political power of a new elite, which reduces the ability of the old elite to extract rents. We show that countries rich in natural resources provide their old elite with incentives to extract rents so high that the private sector has no incentives to build up a modern economy. If the old elite is either politically very strong or the natural resource sector is small compared to the potential of the modern sector, the old elite will choose to extract smaller rents from a growing sector. Some empirical evidence completes the paper.
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