Bryan Caplan  

Ancestry and Long-Run Growth Reading Club: Chanda Comments

Prove-Me-Wrong Prizes... Adam Smith on Why Patents Are ...
Areedam Chanda kindly sent me the following comments on my post on Chanda, Cook, and Putterman.


Thanks for choosing to discuss our paper and for your positive reaction.

A few observations.

(a) In your view technology is the most preferable variable followed by population density and urbanization, with agricultural history and state antiquity coming last. Further, you observe that technology does "well" in capturing persistence, while your least preferable variables do the best, with density and urbanization doing worst.

The fact that urbanization and density may not do as well is, because we believe that they are poorly measured. Furthermore, for urbanization the small sample size makes matters worse.

Moving on to the other three variables, you prefer technology the most but note that your least preferred variables do better. Having re-examined our results, my own reading is that technology performs at least as well as, if not better, than state antiquity and millennia since agriculture.  Note that the simple correlations in our paper indicate that technology, state history and agriculture are very strongly correlated (compared to their correlations with urbanization and population density).

I should also clarify that state history is a "stock" variable that aggregates a measure of the existence of the state over 50 year periods from 1CE to 1500CE. We apply a 5% decay for past values. In other words, it is a stronger indicator of the presence of a state in the centuries closer to 1500, than a 1000 years earlier.

(b) You doubt the Malthusian theory of limited GDP per capita differences and suggest that slavery is an indication that living standards are likely to have been above subsistence. Slavery was not uncommon in pre-industrial times though it did vary by country or empire.  It would be hard to say how much it would be reflected in GDP per capita differences. If most of the population was still engaged in livelihoods that only provided a subsistence income, this may not have mattered so much. In any case, at least indirectly, variations in the existence of slavery should reflect differences in the power and organization of the state, or the technology that helped capture and retain slaves. In that sense, I think variables such as technology and state history are useful measures when GDP per capita is not available.


Having said, that I now shameless plug my earlier research with Louis that was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Economics in 2007. In that paper, we extrapolated GDP per capita in 1500 based on population density and urbanization. Needless to mention, it is certainly worth exploring further by adding state history and the measure of technology.

Thanks again for choosing to cover the series of papers on ancestry and long run development.

Return to top