Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Economic and Political Inequality in Development: The Case of Cundinamarca, Colombia

By Daron Acemoglu, María Angélica Bautista, Pablo Querubín and James A. Robinson


Is inequality harmful for economic growth? Is the underdevelopment of Latin America related to its unequal distribution of wealth? A recently emerging consensus claims not only that economic inequality has detrimental effects on economic growth in general, but also that differences in economic inequality across the American continent during the 19th century are responsible for the radically different economic performances of the north and south of the continent. In this paper we investigate this hypothesis using unique 19th century micro data on land ownership and political office holding in the state of Cundinamarca, Colombia. Our results shed considerable doubt on this consensus. Even though Cundinamarca is indeed more unequal than the Northern United States at the time, within Cundinamarca municipalities that were more unequal in the 19th century (as measured by the land gini) are more developed today. Instead, we argue that political rather than economic inequality might be more important in understanding long-run development paths and document that municipalities with greater political inequality, as measured by political concentration, are less developed today. We also show that during this critical period the politically powerful were able to amass greater wealth, which is consistent with one of the channels through which political inequality might affect economic allocations. Overall our findings shed doubt on the conventional wisdom and suggest that research on long-run comparative development should investigate the implications of political inequality as well as those of economic inequality.

OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2007a) “Oligarchic vs. Democratic Societies,” forthcoming
  2. (2007b) “Modelling Inefficient Institutions,”
  3. 37Estado de Cundinamarca (1859) Los doce C´ odigos del Estado de Cundinamarca, Bogot´ a: Echeverr´ ıa.
  4. (1977). A Colombian Coffee Estate: Santa B´ arbara, Cundinamarca, 1870-1912,”
  5. (1969). A Discriminatory Frontier Land Policy: Chile,
  6. (1970). An Economic History of Colombia,
  7. (1969). An´ alisis de los Censos de
  8. (2005). and Atif Mian
  9. (1978). Antioqe˜ no Colonization in Western Colombia:
  10. (1949). Antioque˜ no colonization in western Colombia,B e r k e l e y :U n i v e r -sity of
  11. (2006). Antoinette Schoar and David Thesmar
  12. (1974). Bases for Political Alignment
  13. (1978). Coffee and conflict in Colombia, 1886-1910,
  14. (1997). Coffee and Power: Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in Central America,
  15. (1980). Coffee in Colombia, 1850-1970: an economic, social, and political history,
  16. (2001). Colombia: Fragmented land, Divided society,
  17. (2003). Cronyism and capital controls: Evidence from
  18. (2006). Davide Ticchi and Andrea Vindigni
  19. (1993). Del poder y la gram´ atica: y otros ensayos sobre historia, pol´ ıtica y literatura colombianas,S a n t a f ´ e de Bogot´ a: Tercer Mundo Editores.
  20. (2006). Democratic capital: The nexus of political and economic change,”
  21. (1965). Econom´ ıayh a c i e n d ap ´ ublica, 2 Volumes, Bogot´ a: Ediciones Lerner.
  22. (1998). Economic and Institutional Trajectories
  23. (1889). Estado de Cundinamarca (1889) Ordenanzas del departamento de Cundinamarca: expedidas por la asamblea de 1888 y c´ odigos, de polic´ ıayp o l ´ ıtico municipal seguidos de algunas leyes nacionales y decretos del poder ejecutivo, Bogot´ a: Imprenta de la
  24. (2001). Estimating the Value of Political
  25. (1986). Frontier expansion and peasant protest in Colombia,
  26. (1979). Gamonalismo in Colombia: An Historical Overview,” North/South:
  27. (2005). Gerring and Carola Moreno
  28. (1996). Growth, Income Distribution, and Democracy: What the Data Say,”
  29. (1996). Historia de Colombia: La Dominaci´ on Espa˜ nola, Bogot´ a: Biblioteca Familiar.
  30. (1973). Historia Economica y Social de Colombia, 1537-1719,B o -got´ a: Tercer Mundo Editores.
  31. (2000). Honorable Lives: Lawyers, Families and Politics
  32. (1993). Income Distribution and
  33. (1989). Income Distribution,
  34. (1999). Inequality and Economic Growth: The Perspective of the New Growth Theories,”
  35. (2000). Inequality and Growth in a Panel of Countries,”
  36. (2003). Inequality and Growth: What can the Data Say?”
  37. (2006). Inequality and Redistribution: Evidence from US Counties and States,
  38. (2007). Inequality does cause underdevelopment: Insights from a New Instrument,” forthcoming,
  39. (1994). Is Inequality Harmful for
  40. (1981). La Propriedad Agraria en Cundinamarca, 1880-1970: Un Esbozo sobre la Sociedad de las Tierras Templadas,” Unpublished, El Colegio de M´ exico.
  41. (1946). Las Haciendas de la Sabana, Editorial Kelly:
  42. (1946). Los trabajadores de tierra caliente,
  43. (1981). Markets and States in Tropical Africa,
  44. (1993). Occupational Choice and the Process of Development,”
  45. (1986). Old South,
  46. (1986). Oligarcas, campesinos y pol´ ıtica en Colombia: aspectos de la historia socio-pol´ ıtica de la frontera antioque˜ na, Bogot´ a: Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
  47. (2000). Oligarchy, democracy, inequality and growth,”
  48. (2006). Political Conflict and PowerSharing in the origins of Modern Colombia,”
  49. (2006). Political Economy of Public Goods: Some Evidence from India,” Unpublished,
  50. (1990). Race and schooling in the South,1880-1950: an economic history,
  51. (1985). Rafael N´ u˜ nez and the politics of Colombian regionalism,
  52. (1981). Red against blue: the Liberal Party in Colombian politics,
  53. Robinson (2000a) “Political Losers as a Barrier to Economic Development,”
  54. Robinson (2000b) “Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Democracy,
  55. Robinson (2006a) “Economic Backwardness in
  56. Robinson (2006b) “Persistence of Power, Elites and Institutions,”
  57. (1920). Rufino
  58. (1972). Social Aspects of Politics
  59. (2005). Structures, Endowments,
  60. (1970). The Colonial Heritage of Latin America,
  61. (1997). The Determinants of Economic Growth: A Cross-Country Empirical Study,
  62. (1994). The Distribution of Wealth in Nineteenth Century Buenos Aires Province,”
  63. (1990). The Heritage of the Conquistadors: ruling classes in Central America from the Conquest to the Sandinistas,
  64. (1996). The Landed Elite,”
  65. (1985). The limits of export capitalism: economic structure, class and politics in a Colombian coffee municipality,
  66. (1997). The Limits of Power: Elections under the Conservative Hegemony in Colombia,
  67. (1993). The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself,
  68. (2006). The oligarchy and the old regime in Peru,
  69. (1985). The Parker-Gallman Sample and Wealth Distributions for the Antebellum South: A Comment,” Explorations
  70. (2000). Unequal Societies: Income Distribution and the Social Contract,” American Economic Review, 90, 96-129. B e n j a m i n ,D w a y n e ,L o r e nB r a n d ta n dJ o h nG i l e s(
  71. (1985). Using Manuscript Census Samples to Interpret Antebellum Southern Agriculture,”
  72. (1971). Voter Participation in the Colombian Election of 1856,”
  73. (1980). Wealth of a nation to be: the American colonies on the eve of the Revolution,
  74. (2004). Why Did the Elites Extend the Suffrage? Democracy and the Scope of Government, With an Application to Britain’s ‘Age of Reform,”

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.