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Are factor endowments fate?*

  • Jeffrey B. Nugent (a1) and James A. Robinson (a2)

In recent theories of comparative development, the role of institutional differences has been crucial. Yet, what explains comparative institutional evolution? We investigate this issue by studying the coffee exporting economies of Latin America. Although homogeneous in many ways, they experienced radically different paths of economic (and political) development, which is conventionally traced to the differential organization of the coffee industry. We show that the different forms that the coffee economy took in the 19th century was critically determined by the legal environment determining access to land, and that different laws resulted from differences in the nature of political competition and the backgrounds of political elites. Our analysis suggests that explanations of institutional differences that stress economic fundamentals can only be part of the story. At least in the economies that we study, while geography, factor endowments and technology are clearly important, their implications for the institutional structure and thus development are conditional on the form that political competition takes in society. For interesting variations in economic outcomes, endowments are not fate.

El papel de las diferencias institucionales ha sido crucial en las teorías recientes del desarrollo comparativo. Pero ¿Qué explica las diferencias comparativas en la evolución institucional? En este trabajo investigamos este asunto estudiando las economías exportadoras de café en Latinoamérica. Aunque similares, estas economías experimentaron diferentes modelos de desarrollo económico (y político) convencionalmente explicados en relación con su diferente organización de la industria cafetera. Este artículo muestra que las diferentes formas adoptadas por la economía cafetera en el siglo XIX estuvieron especialmente determinadas por el entorno legal del acceso a la tierra y de las diferentes leyes resultantes de las diferencias en la naturaleza de la competición política y de la formación de las elites políticas. Nuestro análisis sugiere que las explicaciones de diferencia institucional que presionan los fundamentos de la economía pueden ser sólo una parte de la explicación. Al menos en las economías que hemos estudiado, mientras la geografía, la dotación de recursos y la tecnología son claramente importantes en la explicación, sus implicaciones sobre la estructura institucional y, en consecuencia, sobre el desarrollo, dependen de la forma de competición política adoptada por la sociedad. Para las interesantes variaciones de los resultados económicos los recursos no son el destino.

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Revista de Historia Economica - Journal of Iberian and Latin American Economic History
  • ISSN: 0212-6109
  • EISSN: 2041-3335
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