Skip to content

Was the poverty of Africa determined in 1000 BC?

The usual development conversation about determinants of per capita income revolves around modern choices of institutions or economic policies. But what if history is the main determinant of development today?

A paper by Diego Comin, Erick Gong, and myself was just published in the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics. We collected crude but informative data on the state of technology in various parts of the world in 1000 BC, 0 AD, and 1500 AD.

1500 AD technology is a particularly powerful predictor of per capita income today. 78 percent of the difference in income today between sub-Saharan Africa and Western Europe is explained by technology differences that already existed in 1500 AD – even BEFORE the slave trade and colonialism.

Moreover, these technological differences had already appeared by 1000 BC. The state of technology in 1000 BC has a strong correlation with technology 2500 years later, in 1500 AD.

Why do technological differences persist for so long? The ability to invent new technologies is much greater when you have more advanced technology already. James Watt had acquired a lot of tech experience in the mining industry which he used to invent the steam engine. Other people with the ability to make steel could then slap his steam engine on a vehicle running along steel rails and give us railroads.

Past technology alters probabilities of future success, but does not completely determine it. The most famous counter-example: China was historically technologically advanced and did NOT have the industrial revolution.

A large role for history is still likely to sit uncomfortably with modern development practitioners, because you can’t change your history. But we have to face the world as it is, not as we would like it to be: deal with it. Perhaps when you acknowledge the importance of your own history, you are then more likely to transcend it.

Be Sociable, Share!
This entry was posted in Academic research, Technology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

60 Comments

  1. Justin Kraus wrote:

    Me thinks this one is a powder keg. Without questioning the data, I wonder if this is one of those simplistic truths that is better left unsaid.
    There are other, less potentially offensive ways, to tackle the problem.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 1:33 am | Permalink
  2. Ana wrote:

    I don’t get it. Were there 100 countries in 1000BC? Or is Prof. Easterly drawing a line through four data points – Africa, Europe, Middle East, Central America, India, China.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 1:48 am | Permalink
  3. b wrote:

    Um, you really might want to take this troublesome post down.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 2:01 am | Permalink
  4. John wrote:

    ” . . . is explained by technology differences that already existed in 1500 AD – even BEFORE the slave trade and colonialism.”

    At face value this would appear to diminish the role of the slave trade, but it would be kinda simplistic to assume that technology had nothing to do with how the slave trade and colonialism took shape.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 2:27 am | Permalink
  5. Robert Tulip wrote:

    Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond presents a related argument, that due to physical barriers the spread of technology was historically much stronger between east and west at similar latitudes than between north and south.

    If you argue that Watt’s steam engine was enabled by the mining industry, you can extend this to say it was enabled by institutional precedents in ancient European civilization such as Roman law and Greek logic.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 3:12 am | Permalink
  6. Peter wrote:

    On precolonial West African iron smelting:
    “The placement of tuyeres within the furnace, allowing preheating of the air flow, could have constituted a significant technological innovation unique to African industries, with the smelted product being an intentional steel. The technique of preheating the air blast was patented in Great Britain only in the second quarter of the eighteenth century…
    The area of Sierra Leone at the beginning of the sixteenth century is described variously as having ‘much iron of good quality’ and ‘the best and mildest iron in all the world ‘. Richard Jobson, travelling down the Gambia in I620-I, remarked: ‘ …whereas we thought our Iron would have been greedily desired, we found it not so…'” (Goucher 1981)

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 4:56 am | Permalink
  7. Cynic wrote:

    Oh I love this. Its not at all PC. African countries with little or no domestic technology 500 years ago and 50% or more illiteracy today are unlikely to ever manage to develop technologically and make it to critical mass.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 5:06 am | Permalink
  8. Jens wrote:

    While I certainly won’t question your data, and I think it’s an interesting post, you don’t at all comment on the practical implications of this discovery.

    In my view they seem to be quite minimal, no matter how Africa ended up poor, the world still has to deal with it some way.

    The only real consequence seems to be that we don’t have to “feel (quite so) bad” about colonialism anymore, and it discredits the neo-marxist world system theories – but those theories were discredited anyway.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 5:19 am | Permalink
  9. Depend Dance wrote:

    Yikes, what to make of this paper…

    First of all, the author might want to put on his fireproof suit for the rest of the day.

    Secondly, I’d like to see more papers or references to economic / development history of other technologically backwards/straggling regions which have caught up rapidly and prospered. Something tells me it comes down to having things like enforcement of laws, and strong-ish central governments.

    I agree that the practical applications are probably minimal, even if the history is interesting.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 7:15 am | Permalink
  10. Jim wrote:

    So from reading the paper, the answer to your question “Was the poverty of Africa determined in 1000 BC?” appears to be “Not once you take geography into account”. And the same applies to 0 AD. There is a relationship with technology in 1500 AD, but that’s hardly surprising.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink
  11. Rebecca Burlingame wrote:

    I’ve got your paper downloading and I just want to say that you never fail to surprise me, even if I get upset! The reason this finding is important to me is its implications for the present, in that it is always possible to lose technology anywhere if the conditions go wrong for maintaining it. How to keep from losing progress? Maintain flexibility of choices for economic activity in specific locales, don’t just rely on one set of contextual instructions or economic templates that may inadvertantly stamp out potential…especially for individual economic activity..

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  12. Hi, Bill Easterly!
    From Colombia:
    1) What is the name of your last paper, and are there any link?
    2) When you say: “The ability to invent new technologies is much greater when you have more advanced technology already”, you talk about the incentives when already exist technology, but you don’t answer what are the determinats of the per capita income?

    Thanks!

    (pd: I like so much your blog, I will tweet it.)

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  13. Without questioning your findings, I will echo those who have said that, without addressing the question of _why_ Africa lagged technologically, the study is woefully incomplete and potentially misleading.

    Robert Tulip mentions Jared Diamond’s answer to Why? Diamond’s multi-layered explanation, which goes far beyond geography, is indeed a good place to start (if not necessarily to end).

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  14. Rob wrote:

    My only problem is that I don’t trust 1000 BC data…

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink
  15. Curious wrote:

    Another “here-here” to Jared Diamond’s work – which if I remember correctly – has an entire chapter on Africa (and actually places high importance on diseases like malaria being a constant debilitating force more so than other regions).

    Also, nonsense to the discomfort around the “un-PC” nature of this post – this is a grown-ups blog.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink
  16. Oscar wrote:

    @Rob: Ditto.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  17. Adam Baker wrote:

    Two hundred countries; how many independent variables? Why do you do country-level statistics?

    Is there some question whether it’s possible to find a proxy variable for “Western”?

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  18. Adam Baker wrote:

    Have you looked into the correlation between inventing fireworks in the 12th century and rapid economic growth in the 1980s?

    If not, do, and I will be your co-author.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  19. Stephen Jones wrote:

    If you’re going to make a comparison then missing out India and China that were the technologically most advanced countries in the world until a short time ago seems to invalidate the point of the whole study.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink
  20. Curious wrote:

    I don’t think it invalidates the study but rather validates it. The fact that India/China were so ‘advanced’ (not sure about ‘most’ advanced – maybe in some areas, but not in others – and more importantly is WHICH areas) helps explain why after a short ‘lull’ they can bounce back and be the IC in BRIC.

    Coming back to the point of *which* areas matters bc you can be cutting edge and relevant – until the context changes – at which point – ‘survival of the fittest’ kicks in – as in “fit to succeed in a particular environment”. So, let’s get post-apocalyptic for fun – and we are all blasted into neolithic times – I imagine Africa ends up becoming the survivors bc the technology that would be needed is not computer engineers but knowledge of farming, and simple things we have forgotten how to do – like making rope and soap out of nothing!

    Anyways, point is, “intrinsic superiority” of technology doesn’t determine success so much as a good match between tech and contextual needs. Africa had tech, but not the kind that would make it get ahead during colonial push. We westerners have skills, but not the kind that would help us survive in dire circumstances.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  21. Matt Richmond wrote:

    “Also, nonsense to the discomfort around the “un-PC” nature of this post – this is a grown-ups blog.”

    Thank you.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 11:59 am | Permalink
  22. Deborah Phelan wrote:

    already diamond’s book mentioned; and i would have to also concur that just what has industrialization gotten us? Wondering what would Africa be like today without rampant colonialism, imperialism, state building, raping of its immense natural resources. And take one look at Afrigadget to see how immensively innovative native Americas are … with remnants of the junk we leave behind.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  23. Tim Ogden wrote:

    I view this as having an overall very positive message: when you get things right the positive benefits tend to persist for thousands of years.

    I view the underdeveloped state as the default, “state of nature”. So there is always opportunity to start getting things right, and when you do, the payoffs are handsome indeed.

    The alternative view, I think, requires viewing development as a zero-sum game which I don’t think is defensible.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink
  24. Rebecca Burlingame wrote:

    @Deborah,
    In defense of industrialization, it has pointed the way to the kind of lives that people want, not so much in our surroundings but in our minds. To be sure, the physical infrastructures of our surroundings may not always be possible to maintain in the future, but now us women have a chance not just to operate as equals in the world, but also to become more responsible for ourselves by being less reliant on government and the opposite sex, as well. The paths of the developed world and the developing world now have the chance to converge in ways never possible in previous centuries. What’s more, the globalization of money will not be as responsible for convergence as people imagine.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink
  25. Mack wrote:

    It’s lamentable to see the degree of criticism this bost is generating. I know that there is a strong resistance from some quarters to any theory that places even the slightest amount of emphasis on what could be described as inherent qualities. Jared Diamond went the less controversial route and described the inherent qualities of geography and the environment as causal factors – never straying into the realm of inherent qualities of the people themselves.

    This argument tends to find consensus when it takes the approach that some posters have already expanded upon, namely the ‘who cares how we go to where we are now, this is the world we live in and we have to deal with it as it is.’ This is a pragmatic approach – yet we need to remember that aid in a larger sense can’t just be about mitigation. At some point some concern has to be paid to ultimate causal forces.

    As scientists we have to be willing to put ideology aside to a degree and pay attention to the evidence – even when it doesn’t support our assumptions. If we don’t we risk doing a great disservice both to those that need help and to those that are compassionate enough to provide it.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  26. All this political correctness is part of the problem. Potential solutions are never discussed because somebody’s feelings might get hurt. I call it the “pussification of America”. I got news for people. Challenges are challenging.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  27. William Easterly wrote:

    I am surprised at some of the negative reactions, which border on accusing me of racism, or at least very un-PC, which is code for racism.

    It’s just a correlation! How can a correlation be racist? It’s some of you who seem to be interpreting that way, not me. Our leading explanation in the paper is the rather dry and not so controversial theory that initial conditions matter for future technolgoy for long periods, because new invention or adoption is complementary to previously existing technology.

    On the technical criticisms, please read the paper. Yes, the robust result is that technology in 1500 AD is highly correlated with per capita income today. half a millennium of persistence struck us and most others as surprising enough. This is robust to controlling for the big differences between continents, so no it is not just 5 or 6 observations. Of course, the quality of the measures in 1500 AD is much better than earlier periods, as we explain in the paper.

    However, technology in 1500 AD is correlated robustly with technology in 1000 BC, so initial conditions even as early as 1000 BC do still matter.

    I have fired back in the same spirited tone as some of the comments, but I do appreciate all the commentators’ efforts to convey very instructive feedback.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  28. Manuel wrote:

    Oh, my God!!! Please, prof. Easterly, enlight us about what meaning correlation between two sets of data separated by five (or twenty, or thirty) centuries can possibly have! I am a sucker for convoluted causal mechanisms. Erm, and I don’t care about PC either.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  29. Curious wrote:

    I also think it IS pragmatic to ask “why” /underlying causal factors and to dig into initial conditions bc without this understanding of history – you end up prescribing near-sighted/wrong solutions! Just bc it requires more time to think and analyze, doesn’t mean it’s not ultimately more pragmatic since your actions will at least be more informed.

    Easterly just said: “because new invention or adoption is complementary to previously existing technology” – yes and this is true of not only physical tech but also knowledge and ideas in general – they are *appropriated* and take on a different ‘flavour’ according to the pre-existing conditions. This is analogous to introducing a foreign plant/animal species into a new environment – it may or may not have beneficial consequences and those may or may not have been the intended ones either way. This is why the road to hell is paved by good intentions. It’s why bed nets are used for fishing. Ideas/tech is ABSORBED and in a way, transformed. The same object does not mean the same thing in two different contexts. A la thegodsmustbecrazy-style/Poisonwood Bible (to use expat appropriate cultural symbols :)

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink
  30. Sean Winslow wrote:

    While I find the correlation interesting, and think that the indices look broad enough to be fair (even if I wonder if more granularity isn’t necessary for 1000) there are specific historical reasons why 1500 is particularly suitable for making this argument, in a way that, say, 1750 is not. Europe’s explosive technological growth starts in the 15th century, giving them a huge advantage relative to, say, China, which might have been ahead before, but presumably shows as relatively flat across the intervening period, with a spike very recently, catching it up. Though you concede the problems with China and the Islamic Empire, there seems to be a rather Whiggish determinism at the root of the idea that this correlation is useful that falls into the same trap as Jared Diamond’s work: if the correlation fails in the case of China et al., we need to explain the failure in historical, not economically deterministic terms.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
  31. Adam Baker wrote:

    William Easterly wrote:

    “It’s just a correlation!”

    Thank you for clearing that up. :-)

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
  32. William Easterly wrote:

    Michael Kirkpatrick, thanks for the support, but there is good PC and bad PC. Actually I really don’t like the use of this word “pussification” on good PC grounds. It’s like calling people you don’t like “effeminate” — these are words based pretty explicitly on the idea that women are, well, inferior in some dimension. I already get into enough trouble without using offensive and insulting words like this.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink
  33. My apologies for the explicit terminology. I think you have taken a biological interpretation of my made-up word. The word is intended to be a synonym for wimpy and the antonym for courageous. There was absolutely no gender-based association intended.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink
  34. Dr Elaine Friedland wrote:

    I read your entire article. In terms of Africa your table puts in 0 AD the “gap” between Europe and Africa of only .125. However, that gap vastly increased in 1500. While at that time the transatlantic slave trade had not yet begun in full force, the Portuguese began importing African slaves into Europe the mid 1400s. Additionally since the 600s there was extensive slave trade conducted by Arabs which transported people from SubSaharan Africa to North Africa and southern Europe, and from East Africa to the Middle East. You can start your research with this article #
    Islam, Archaeology and Slavery in Africa
    # J. Alexander
    # World Archaeology, Vol. 33, No. 1, The Archaeology of Slavery (Jun., 2001), pp. 44-60

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Permalink
  35. Curious wrote:

    haha – oh brother. well, the word “pusillanimous” has its root in “small boy”….but contemporary interpretations of Michael’s p-word do make your mind automatically go to female anatomy.

    Which, if I may point out as an aside, is a rather unfair and inaccurate modern day insult bc as we all know, the female anatomy seems a bit stronger than the super sensitive male stuff.

    Well, back to the grown-ups blog….um, yeah we should look at initial conditions re tech and africa…

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Permalink
  36. May I have your attention please class. Today’s vocabulary word is pusillanimous.

    Main Entry: pu·sil·lan·i·mous
    Function: adjective
    Etymology: Late Latin pusillanimis, from Latin pusillus very small (diminutive of pusus boy) + animus spirit; perhaps akin to Latin puer child — more at puerile, animate
    Date: 1586
    : lacking courage and resolution : marked by contemptible timidity
    synonyms: see cowardly

    You may now return to your regulary scheduled discussion.

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 8:39 pm | Permalink
  37. Professor Easterly,
    I have a profound respect for your work and your willingness to hold large aid and development institutions accountable for their work. You are one of only a few people publicly doing this.

    I mean no disrespect by pointing out that your initial reponse to the use of my fabricated word was due to your personal interpretation. It serves as an analogy to the enitire problem in aid and development. You thought that you understood what I meant. There was a misunderstanding. Emotions may have been triggered. Does this sound familiar? There is an enourmous amount of misunderstanding, misinformation, and intellectual arrogance happening in the aid and development industries. One of the ways that this can be overcome is by listening to each other and humbling ourselves when compromise is necessary. I don’t mean to sound like an elementary school teacher, but maybe many of the people in the aid and development industry need to go back to elementary school.

    Keep up the great work!

    Posted July 15, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink
  38. Luis Enrique wrote:

    This observed correlation in no way contradicts the idea that, say, slavery and colonialism wrecked African societies/economies and is primarily responsible for that continent’s condition today. For example, perhaps technological adoption in 1500 AD merely explains which countries went on to become slave-takers and colonialists.

    I think it would be a serious mis-reading of this finding to think it some how shows slavery and colonialism is “not to blame”

    Posted July 16, 2010 at 6:25 am | Permalink
  39. Luis Enrique wrote:

    However, the use of the word “determined” in the headline is debatable.

    It may be true to say that the way the cards were dealt in 1500 AD explains a lot about how things have played out, but of course the game could have been played differently.

    There is path dependency, but it’s not clear how strongly the state of the world in one period is “determined” by its state in the previous period. You can take any position in between the view that everything was “determined” at the time of the big bang, and the position that as of today, nothing is “determined”.

    Posted July 16, 2010 at 6:37 am | Permalink
  40. wooden gates wrote:

    I’ve read throught this article and see this as something similar happening in modern times where, the rich are getting richer because they can help them selves and the poor are being trodden on by the rich.

    The same thing happened to africa and less developed countries. European countries had the money and technology and saw them as inferior so held them down for many many years, exploiting with slavery, creating this gap in technology we are only now trying to resolve, poorly if at all because ‘the west’ use poorer countries STILL so you can have cheep trainers etc, we aren’t bringing the slaves to Europe or America anymore were taking the factories to them, which is just as bad and immoral.

    Makes me sad as this is possibly the main cause of the problems in society, if these were fixed and maybe the world could stabalise. I doubt thats going to happen anytime soon…

    Posted July 16, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink
  41. fundamentalist wrote:

    While the paper is interesting, the experience of China over the past 40 years destroys the conclusion about technological determinism. Jonathan Israel argues that the industrial revolution began in the Dutch Republic of the 16th century. But clearly the technology spread rapidly through Europe and the US. Why did it not spread to Africa, China or the Ottoman Empire? That is the real question.

    And as modern China, S. Korea, Taiwan and other countries demonstrate, per capita income can rise rapidly simply by the adoption of modern technology. What hinders the spread of technology to Africa is the main question to be answered.

    Also, China and the Ottoman Empire were far more advanced in wealth and technology in the 16th century than Europe. Why did Europe advance and the other empires didn’t.

    Posted July 16, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink
  42. So much vitriol and fallacy in these comments, it’s astonishing. A “large role for history” does not mean anything like “determinism”. It is notable and interesting that global patterns of military and agricultural technology usage in 1500 are related in any way to global patterns of computer and cell phone usage today, for that need not have been the case.

    This is an interesting fact, and I have no idea what it has to do with racism or determinism or any other -ism. It does not mean that colonialism did no harm, since it is possible that the usage of technologies might be more globally distributed today had it not been for colonialism. It is simply an empirical pattern that is useful to think about.

    It is so sad that blog comments, which could have become a forum for new and wonderful interactions in the 21st century, have degenerated into mostly pointless shouting.

    Posted July 16, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink
  43. fundamentalist wrote:

    Michael, Easterly raised the issue of determinism with his headline: “Was the poverty of Africa determined in 1000 BC?” and with his first paragraph: “The usual development conversation about determinants of per capita income revolves around modern choices of institutions or economic policies. But what if history is the main determinant of development today?”

    And did the guys do the research and write the paper because they had an interesting correlation that didn’t mean anything and from which no important conclusions could be drawn?

    Posted July 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
  44. Sean Winslow wrote:

    I agree with ‘fundamentalist': it is hard to see how a discussion of whether historical factors outweigh economic determinism in an article which explicitly has determinism in its title is somehow fallacious. The conclusion of the article barely states this in the first line, but historical factors could easily have belied that correlation, had, say, Europe and the Soviet Union engaged in nuclear war. . .

    Correlation classically not only does not imply causation, but it certainly does not indicate determination. The fact that China and India are not world hegemons, as such analysis would predict, and the sudden flowering and subsequent stagnation of the Islamic empire would suggest both that historical factors are primary and that the issue is a whole lot more complicated than the article suggests. Climate change affected the relative distribution of wealth in the post-Roman world away from the East and the South, religious crusade enriched Europe at the expense of near Asia, a taste for hops (a preservative) increased sea trade and developed naval technology in Northern Europe. . . a host of apparently arbitrary factors came together in producing the circumstances which made Europe such a dominant naval power, and other circumstances made China and India lose their leads and end up conquered and divided. It is very hard to draw any conclusions based upon correlations exterior to historical circumstances, but the article seems to do so (else why write it, however interesting the experiment), and that is what we are cautioning against. Your contribution, Dr. Clemens, serves only to illustrate your point about the poor quality of blog comments, without meaningfully engaging in the conversation about determinism that you so flippantly dismiss.

    Posted July 16, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink
  45. William Easterly wrote:

    Was not previously aware of this extreme sensitivity to “determinism”, apparently a very bad word in some circles. The determinism in the question in the title (both blog and paper) is meant to start the discussion. If you read the paper, you will see we discuss multiple equilibria as consistent with the evidence, which is NOT determinism. And obviously contingency matters, but apparently not enough to wipe out the relevance of initial conditions.

    I think the other thing generating heat here is the different approaches of historians and economists. Why should one or the other have the exclusive claim on truth? Maybe each would benefit listening to the others’ perspectives.

    Posted July 16, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Permalink
  46. Word_Bandit wrote:

    Golly, I missed all the brouhaha.

    Will say this, that Bill has fallen back on the “I didn’t know it was code for X” argument before — thinking in particular of that “bankism” argument.

    What he was trying to get at, in the provocative title and ensuing “argument” was that the banking industry was being made a scapegoat for a systemic financial problem, Bill then used one element of racism, scapegoating, to blur all other elements of racism, i.e., institutional racism. income disparity, prison populations, inner city turmoil. and so many sociological elements that we have entire university departments devoted to these things.

    When called to task on this, Bill said that being in the Ivory Tower, or some such thing, he was unfamiliar that he had used a code word.

    His second sentence (or thereabouts) in that particular piece was that “racism was no longer tolerated.” Yeah, take that to your black American friends and see what they say back to you.

    So maybe a similar problem exists in this particular brouhaha? Drawing an analogy or some such move (“scapegoating”) that is never made explicit (which is what happened before, Bill did not separate the issue of scapegoating from racism, two different animals) and then arguing some implicit provocative inference with not a wit or tethering to reality.

    Don’t know.

    On a different topic: explicit engendered language, and I am not the one using it.

    Making progress.

    Posted July 16, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
  47. AndrewR wrote:

    The study mentioned by William Easterly reminded me of Douglas North’s concept of “path dependence” in his book ‘Understanding the process of economic change’.

    Posted July 16, 2010 at 11:10 pm | Permalink
  48. joe wrote:

    I may be missing something but the word pusillanimous was not the original word written by mr. kilpatrick; pussification was. Pussification is hardly a word that’s been invented here, either. You hear it occasionally among guys talking about something that they generally see as weak or wimpy. It’s very surprising to see it written here and really diminishes this space considerably. It’s particularly inappropriate given that the use is applied in such a vague way that is clearly unsupportable by any research. This is hardly a free speech issue; you can use whatever words you like. But it is not illegitimate nor unreasonable for people to draw conclusions about someone using that word. Using ill-defined slang expressions is fun and certainly helps a person connect to a more popular audience, perhaps, but ultimately it’s counterproductive to anyone’s argument, in my opinion.

    Posted July 17, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink
  49. Sean Winslow wrote:

    Well, in the spirit of listening to each others’ approaches, since you already have a co-author on the article, you might have found a historian of technology or an archaeologist to work with as an additional co-author (both may be found at UC Berkeley), and found out why determinism is such a bad word, and how the issue has been thoroughly discussed in the past.

    Posted July 17, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  50. Proudly African wrote:

    As much as I can agree that Africa lacks the capacity to reinvent itself technologically, the problem has nothing to do with historical antecedent. Afterall, Africa/Middle East is undeniably the cradle of civilization. The problem about African backwardness is mostly contributed by buccaneering & exploitative colonialism from Western countries particularly Britain. They are still indirectly contributing to the rot by aiding and abetting corruption in Africa. If all the blood monies stashed to Europe (Swiss/ UK etc) are repatriated to their source and invested in education and research ventures, Africa will leapfrog ahead of even US within a decade. Most of the comments here reflect absolute ignorance of Africa as a continent and harsh/unfair profiling in western media.

    Posted July 18, 2010 at 7:41 am | Permalink

7 Trackbacks

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alex B. Hill, Conduit Journal. Conduit Journal said: Was the poverty of Africa determined in 1000 BC? http://bit.ly/cBYzT7 […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Katrin Verclas, Michael Keizer. Michael Keizer said: .@bill_easterly using linkbait title, then claiming innocence when challenged. http://bit.ly/dgAeZT […]

  3. By Is Bill Easterly losing it? | Humanosphere on July 18, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    […] I had to laugh when I read a post on Easterly’s blog in which he suggests that Africa’s technological state of affairs […]

  4. […] William Easterly has done it again…in an article titled ‘Was the poverty of Africa determined in 1000 BC‘, Easterly hypothesis on whether ‘Africa’ was backwards long before […]

  5. […] William Easterly. Se, för övrigt, min kritik av användandet av förkortningarna ”BC” och […]

  6. […] in a feisty thread at Aidwatch, Michael Clemens offers a nice defence of quantitative research: Numbers are one of many ways to organize information. While they can in […]

  7. By Kvick Tänkare « Travels with Shiloh on July 23, 2010 at 6:35 am

    […] This article (I can’t remember where from now..mea culpa!) discusses some interesting and disturbing […]

  • About Aid Watch

    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

    "Conscience is the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking." - H.L. Mencken

  • Recent Comments

  • Archives