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Land Inequality and the Transition to Modern Growth

By Tasso Adamopoulos


Can the initial distribution of land, in a country's early history, affect its subsequent economic development? In this paper, I show that when land ownership is sufficiently concentrated, the landed elite will lobby the government to raise barriers to industrialization in order to protect its rents in the rural economy. I develop a small open economy model in which barriers take the form of tariffs on the imports of intermediate inputs used in industry. Such tariffs can affect both the timing and the pace of industrialization. The quantitative application of the theory is motivated by an important question in economic history: why did Argentina not replicate Canadian economic success, despite reasonable expectations to the contrary in the late 19th century? I provide evidence that Argentina had a markedly higher inequality in land ownership than Canada. Taking as given the observed differences in land distributions in the early 20th century, the model produces differences in equilibrium tariffs similar to the ones observed at the time, and the ones required to account for the Canadian-Argentine income gap until 1950. Over time however, as land becomes unimportant in production, land inequality ceases to be a source of policy disparities and income gaps. (Copyright: Elsevier)Income differences; Tariffs; Land inequality; Lobbying

DOI identifier: 10.1016/
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