Noyce Conference Room
  US Mountain Time
Jean-Paul Faguet

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Abstract: The Spanish encomienda, a colonial forced-labor institution that lasted three centuries, killed many indigenous people and caused others to flee into nomadism. What were its long-term effects? We digitize a great deal of historical data from the mid-1500s onwards and reconstruct the Spanish conquerors’ route through Colombia using detailed topographical features to calculate their least-cost path. We show that Colombian municipalities with encomiendas in 1560 enjoy better outcomes today across multiple dimensions of development than those without: higher municipal GDP per capita, tax receipts, and educational attainment; lower infant mortality, poverty, and unsatisfied basic needs; larger populations; and superior fiscal performance and bureaucratic efficiency, but also higher inequality. Why? Two mediation exercises using data on local institutions, populations and racial composition in 1794 shows that encomiendas affected development primarily by helping build the local state. Deep historical evidence fleshes out how encomenderos founded local institutions early on in the places they settled. Places lacking encomiendas also lacked local states for 3-4 centuries. Local institutions mobilized public investment in ways that doubtless suited encomenderos, but, over time, spurred greater economic and human development.


Jean-Paul FaguetJean-Paul FaguetProfessor of Political Economy at the London School of Economics & Political Science
SFI Host: 
Will Tracy

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