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Colonial Institutions, Slavery, Inequality, and Development: Evidence from São Paulo, Brazil

Summerhill, William (2010): Colonial Institutions, Slavery, Inequality, and Development: Evidence from São Paulo, Brazil.

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Abstract

Brazil is frequently portrayed as exhibiting persistent and structural economic inequality that is rooted in the early colonial experience, and is believed to undermine development in the long run. I construct original measures of agricultural inequality for 1905 in what is today Brazil’s largest state, using farm-level micro data for some 50,000 farms. Using these measures of inequality, along with contemporary covariates and other historical variables I assess the impact of colonial institutions, slavery, farm inequality, and political inequality on long-term development in São Paulo. The principal findings are: (1) a potentially coercive colonial institution, the aldeamento, is positively correlated with income per capita at the end of the twentieth century; (2) measures of the intensity of slavery have little if any independent impact on income in 2000; (3) farm inequality was not persistent in São Paulo at the county level over the twentieth century; (4) in both OLS and IV estimates, no negative effect can be found for 1905 inequality on long-term development; (5) political inequality in the early twentieth century, measured by the extent of the franchise, is unrelated to contemporary farm inequality, and also unrelated to long-term economic growth; and (6) the provision of local public goods in the early twentieth century, measured by local public education outlays, has a positive impact on long-term development, but was not related to contemporary economic or political inequality. Overall, neither the intensity of slavery nor the pattern of inequality had any discernable negative economic impact in the long run.

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