20 fevereiro 2015

A desigualdade na América Latina tem origens coloniais? Não!

Latin American Inequality: Colonial Origins, Commodity Booms, or a Missed 20th CenturyLeveling?
Jeffrey G. Williamson
NBER Working Paper No. 20915
January 2015
JEL No. D3,N16,N36,O15


Most analysts of the modern Latin American economy have held the pessimistic belief in historical
persistence -- they believe that Latin America has always had very high levels of inequality, and that
it’s the Iberian colonists’ fault. Thus, modern analysts see today a more unequal Latin America compared
with Asia and most rich post-industrial nations and assume that this must always have been true. Indeed,
some have argued that high inequality appeared very early in the post-conquest Americas, and that
this fact supported rent-seeking and anti-growth institutions which help explain the disappointing growth
performance we observe there even today. The recent leveling of inequality in the region since the
1990s seems to have done little to erode that pessimism. It is important, therefore, to stress that this
alleged persistence is based on an historical literature which has made little or no effort to be comparative,
and it matters. Compared with the rest of the world, inequality was not high in the century following
1492, and it was not even high in the post-independence decades just prior Latin America’s belle époque
and start with industrialization. It only became high during the commodity boom 1870-1913, by the
end of which it had joined the rich country unequal club that included the US and the UK. Latin America
only became relatively high between 1913 and the 1970s when it missed the Great Egalitarian Leveling
which took place almost everywhere else. That Latin American inequality has its roots in its colonial
past is a myth.

Jeffrey G. Williamson
350 South Hamilton Street #1002
Madison, WI 53703
and Harvard University and CEPR
and also NBER

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