"The past is never dead. It's not even past." William Faulkner.

Featured in VOX, the World Bank, IADB and Nada es Gratis blogs, the Washington Post, La Nacion and El Espectador newspapers, America magazine and Javeriana Estereo

This article examines the long-term consequences of a historical human capital intervention. The Jesuit order founded religious missions in 1609 among the Guarani, in modern-day Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Before their expulsion in 1767, missionaries instructed indigenous inhabitants in reading, writing, and various crafts. Using archival records, as well as data at the individual and municipal level, I show that in areas of former Jesuit presence—within the Guarani area—educational attainment was higher and remains so (by 10%-15%) 250 years later. These educational differences have also translated into incomes that are 10% higher today. The identification of the positive effect of the Guarani Jesuit missions emerges after comparing them with abandoned Jesuit missions and neighboring Franciscan Guarani missions. The enduring effects observed are consistent with transmission mechanisms of structural transformation, occupational specialization, and technology adoption in agriculture.

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper | Documento CEDE | Featured in VOX, the World Bank, World Economic Forum, LSE, FUNCAS and Nada es Gratis blogs

Using subnational historical data, this paper establishes the within country persistence of economic activity in the New World over the last half millennium, a period including the trauma of the European colonization, the decimation of the native populations, and the imposition of potentially growth inhibiting institutions. We construct a data set incorporating measures of pre-colonial population density, new measures of present regional per capita income and population, and a comprehensive set of locational fundamentals. These fundamentals are shown to have explanatory power: native populations throughout the hemisphere were found in more livable and productive places. We then show that high pre-colonial density areas tend to be dense today: population agglomerations persist. The data and historical evidence suggest this is due partly to locational fundamentals, but also to classic agglomeration e.ffects: colonialists established settlements near existing native populations for reasons of labor, trade, knowledge and defense. The paper then shows that high density historically prosperous) areas also tend to have higher incomes today, and largely due to agglomeration e.ects: fortune persists for the United States and most of Latin America.

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper | Documento CEDE | IZA Discussion Paper | Featured in VOX and LSE blog

This paper offers the first systematic historical evidence on the role of a central actor in modern growth theory- the engineer. We collect cross-country and state level data on the population share of engineers for the Americas, and county level data on engineering and patenting for the US at the dawn of the Second Industrial Revolution. These are robustly correlated with income today and remain so after controlling for literacy, other types of higher order human capital (e.g. lawyers, physicians), demand side factors, and instrumenting engineering using the Land Grant Colleges program. A one standard deviation increase in engineers in 1880 accounts for a 16% increase in US county income today, and patenting capacity contributes another 10%. Our estimates also help explain why countries with similar levels of income in 1900, but tenfold differences in engineers diverged in their growth trajectories over the next century. We support the statistical results with historical case studies from the US and Latin America.

Research in Progress

Book Chapters

Center for Global Development Working Paper | World Bank Policy Research Working Paper