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Between the colonial heritage and the first globalization boom: on income inequality in the Southern Cone*

  • Luis Bértola (a1), Cecilia Castelnovo (a2), Javier Rodríguez (a3) and Henry Willebald (a4)

This paper presents a first estimate of income inequality in the Southern Cone of South America (Brazil 1872 and 1920, Chile 1870 and 1920, Uruguay 1920) and some assumptions with regard to Argentina (1870 and 1920) and Uruguay (1870). We find that income distribution was relatively high on the eve of the first globalization boom. Thus, inequality is not only the result of globalization, but also a structural feature. Inequality increased between 1870 and 1920, both within individual countries and between countries. Globalization forces do not result in obvious outcomes. Rather, the effect of globalization on inequality depends on the expansion of the frontier and institutional persistence and change in old and new areas. Inequality was clearly high in the wake of the globalization process. This was a particular kind of inequality, which was part of a set of institutions closely linked to the exports of primary goods, sluggish technological change and limited human capital formation.


Este artículo presenta una primera estimación de la distribución del ingreso en el Cono Sur de Sudamérica (Brasil 1872 y 1920, Chile 1870 y 1920, Uruguay 1920) y algunos supuestos sobre la desigualdad en Argentina 1870 y 1920, así como en Uruguay en 1870. Encontramos que la distribución del ingreso era relativamente alta en los albores de la primera globalización, por lo que la desigualdad del ingreso no solamente debe ser vista como el resultado de la globalización, sino como una característica estructural. La desigualdad aumentó entre 1870 y 1920, tanto dentro de cada país como entre los países del Cono Sur. Las fuerzas de la globalización no generan resultados obvios. Por el contrario, el impacto de la globalización sobre la desigualdad depende de la expansión de la frontera y de la persistencia y el cambio institucional en las viejas áreas y en las nuevas. La desigualdad fue particularmente alta al culminar la globalización. Se trató de una forma particular de desigualdad, que formó parte de un conjunto de instituciones estrechamente vinculadas a una economía exportadora de bienes primarios, con escaso desarrollo tecnológico y bajos niveles de formación de capital humano.

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D. Acemoglu ; S. Johnson J. Robinson (2002): «Reversal of Fortune: Geography and Institutions in the Making of the Modern World Income Distribution». Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117 (4), pp. 1231-1294.

D. Acemoglu ; S. Johnson J. Robinson (2005): «Institutions as the Fundamental Cause of Long-Run Growth», in P. Aghion and S. N. Durlauf (eds), Handbook of Economic Growth. The Netherlands: Elsevier B.V., pp. 385-472.

L. Bértola ; C. Castelnovo ; J. Rodríguez Weber H. Willebald (2009): «Income Distribution in the Latin American Southern Cone during the First Globalization Boom and Beyond». International Journal of Comparative Sociology, V, 50 (5-6), pp. 452-485.

F. Bourguignon C. Morrisson (2002): «Inequality among World Citizens». American Economic Review, 92 (4), pp. 727-744.

W. Glade (1986): «Latin America and the International Economy, 1870-1914», in L. Bethell (ed.), The Cambridge History of Latin America: c. 1870 to 1930, vol. IV. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

K. Harley (2007): «Comments on Factor Prices and Income Distribution in less Industrialised Economies 1870–1939: Refocusing on the Frontier». Australian Economic History Review, 47 (3), pp. 238-248.

A. Maddison (2001): The Word Economy: A Millennial Perspective. Paris: Development Centre Studies, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

K. H. O’Rourke J. G. Williamson (2005): «From Malthus to Ohlin: Trade, Industrialization and Distribution since 1500». Journal of Economic Growth, 10, pp. 5-34.

J. G. Williamson (1995): «The Evolution of Global Markets since 1830: Background Evidence and Hypotheses». Explorations in Economic History, 32, pp. 141-196.

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Revista de Historia Economica - Journal of Iberian and Latin American Economic History
  • ISSN: 0212-6109
  • EISSN: 2041-3335
  • URL: /core/journals/revista-de-historia-economica-journal-of-iberian-and-latin-american-economic-history
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