Influential studies by Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson claim that colonial legacies explain the origins of development-promoting property rights and thus account for the modern world income distribution. Specifically, they argue that European colonial powers engineered a global ‘reversal of fortune’, bringing property rights and prosperity to relatively uninhabited colonies while imposing inefficient institutions on locales with less potential for settlement. We re-evaluate their theoretical arguments and empirical findings and come to a different conclusion. We concur that British colonialism dramatically restructured four colonies, resulting in phenomenal economic success. For the majority of the world, however, colonialism had no discernible effect on property rights. We conclude that contemporary development studies must find another explanation for the modern world income distribution.