How much do Europeans account for economic development?

From the Wall Street Journal, by Daniel Lippman:

European settlement had a longstanding positive effect on economic development in countries that were colonies, notwithstanding the terrible effects of Western diseases and political oppression that often resulted, according to new research.

The paper, titled “The European Origins of Economic Development,” was written by New York University’s William Easterly and UC Berkeley’s Ross Levine, who set out to build a new comprehensive database of the European share of the population in the early phases of colonization. It also looked at the impact of the settlers on the former colonies’ economic development today.

In an “illustrative exercise” that the two professors run in their paper, they find that “47% of average global development levels today are attributable to Europeans.”

What could accounts for that large number? The paper argues that it could partly be explained because “Europeans brought growth-promoting characteristics — such as institutions, human capital, connections with international markets, and cultural norms — that diffused to the rest of the population over generations.”

A large number of commentators generously congratulated the authors on being obvious, wrong, and racist.

You may find the NBER link to the paper above to be restricted. If so, here is an unrestricted link.