Inequality does cause underdevelopment: insights from a new instrument

Consistent with the provocative hypothesis of Engerman and Sokoloff (1997, 2000), this paper confirms with cross-country data that agricultural endowments predict inequality and inequality predicts development. The use of agricultural endowments –specifically the abundance of land suitable for growing wheat relative to that suitable for growing sugarcane -- as an instrument for inequality is this paper’s approach to problems of measurement and endogeneity of inequality. The paper finds inequality also affects other development outcomes – institutions and schooling –which the literature has emphasized as mechanisms by which higher inequality lowers per capita income. It tests the inequality hypothesis for development, institutional quality and schooling against other recent hypotheses in the literature. While finding some evidence consistent with other development fundamentals, the paper finds high inequality to independently be a large and statistically significant barrier to prosperity, good quality institutions, and high schooling.

I got two useful suggestions yesterday. One is why not use the blog to promote my own research papers, some of which remain tragically under-read and under-cited. The second is why not balance my blog posts a bit more from my usual playfulness, irreverence, and satire with an occasional reminder that I actually do work as a serious academic for a living?

The title and abstract are from my article in the Journal of Development Economics, Vol. 84, Issue 2, November 2007, 755-776. For dataset click here.