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Big Social Savings in a Small Laggard Economy: Railroad-Led Growth in Brazil


Railroad development had a profound impact in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Brazil. Direct benefits were small for passengers, but large for freight services, and contributed heavily to the transition from stagnation to growth. Domestic-use activities received a differentially large stimulus. Estimates of the social rate of return reveal that Brazil did not overinvest in railroads. A different allocation of subsidies to railroad capital could have generated additional gains. Backward linkages did little for industry, but the “leakage” attributable to imported inputs was modest. Institutional externalities were mixed. By 1913 railroads had paved the way for dramatically improved economic growth.

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The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
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