Blame the climate, not the colonists

My ANU colleague Sambit Bhattacharya has a new paper on the causes of African underdevelopment. He tests various theories, and concludes that what matters most is having a climate that is conducive to malaria. Here’s the abstract:

Root Causes of African Underdevelopment
Sambit Bhattacharyya
Forthcoming Journal of African Economies
What are the root causes of Africa’s current state of under-development? Is it the long history of slave trade, or the legacy of extractive colonial institutions, or the fallout of malaria? We investigate the relative contributions of these factors using Atlantic  distance, Indian Ocean distance, Saharan distance, Red Sea distance, log settler mortality, and malaria ecology as instruments. The results show that malaria matters the most and all other factors are statistically insignificant. Malaria also negatively affects savings. The results are robust even when the malaria ecology instrument is replaced by frost, humidity, and rainfall and when the latter are used as additional control variables. We find that frost alone is enough to knock off the effects of slave trade and institutions on long term development in Africa.

Impressively, Sambit has also posted his code on his website, so anyone who wants to check or extend his results can readily do so.

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4 Responses to Blame the climate, not the colonists

  1. Very interesting. I would instinctively have thought it rather implausible that malaria would be a greater factor than anything else, particularly compared to dismal governance and corruption. However, that’s what research is for.

    If he’s accurate, it does show how critical climate and ecology can be, which makes the prospect of major climate change even more daunting – and not just for Africa.

  2. Patrick says:

    Extremely interesting and somewhat counter my ‘priors’ on this as well. Maybe the key sentence is this one (p7):

    Furthermore, although suggestive of the importance of diseases, some of the results related to the present day impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa may not be directly comparable with our study as we focus on estimating the effects of malaria.

    Some thoughts, though:
    – Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia?
    – Was banning DDT the humanitarian disaster of the century after all?
    – Score another one for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?

    Hopefully the author himself or someone else can consider the first point, in particular.

  3. ChrisPer says:

    African underdevelopment is extremely intractable, but its hard to get over the depth of obstacle that magical or corrupt thinking creates. As an Australian working in Zimbabwe I was astonished at the depth of dependence people had, even modern professionals, on the ‘big man in government’ or the employer. Every opportunity was seen as coming from the hand of the powerful, yet every day someone would give proof of the effectiveness of initiative and entrepreneurial effort – only to have a thief or a government destroy what they had created.

  4. wilful says:

    Patrick, please note that DDT was never banned for vector control, and is still in use around houses for human protection. Though not very effective due to natural resistance.

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