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The contribution of railways to economic growth in Latin America before 1914: a growth accounting approach

Herranz-Loncan, Alfonso (2011): The contribution of railways to economic growth in Latin America before 1914: a growth accounting approach.

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Abstract

Railways are usually considered as one of the most important innovations that fostered the transition of Latin America to economic growth before 1914. The social saving estimates that are available for several Latin American countries seem to confirm that view. However, the interpretation of the results of the social saving literature is not straightforward, since the comparison among social savings calculated for different countries and years may be troublesome, and the actual meaning of the social saving estimates is not clear. This paper suggests an alternative approach to the economic impact of railways in Latin America. It presents estimates of the direct growth contribution of the railway technology in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay before 1914, which are calculated on the basis of the growth accounting methodology. The outcomes of the estimation indicate that railway effects on Uruguayan economic growth were very low. By contrast, in the other three cases under study (Argentina, Mexico and Brazil) the railways provided huge direct benefits. In Argentina and Mexico, these amounted to between one fifth and one quarter of the total income per capita growth of the period under analysis. By contrast, in the case of Brazil, the outcomes of the analysis indicate that the direct contribution of railways to growth would have been higher than the whole income per capita growth of the Brazilian economy before 1914. This unexpected result might suggest that the national level is not the most adequate scale to analyse the economic impact of network infrastructure in the case of large, geographically unequal and insufficiently integrated developing economies.

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