Melissa Dell on the Significance of Persistence | Conversations with Tyler
Harvard economist Melissa Dell, in a conversation with Tyler Cowen, delves into the concept of ‘persistence’ in economic development.
She discusses how historical events and structures can have long-lasting impacts on a region’s economic trajectory, using examples from Vietnam, Mexico, South Korea, and the Philippines.
State Capacity and Economic Development
Having a state that is capable of monopolizing violence and providing public goods is largely a prerequisite for economic development.
However, the state’s capacity can be used for good or bad, depending on what the state wants to do.
Predictive Power of Historical State
The historical state of a region can provide insights into its future development.
However, the world is fundamentally complex and there are many factors at play in economic development.
Significance of Historical Events
Historical events can explain up to 10% of the variation in economic development, which is significant given the complexity of the factors involved.
For instance, the Mexican Revolution and the different development paths of northern and southern Vietnam can illustrate this.
Historians vs Economists
Historians tend to focus on a very narrow context, while economists look at broader impacts.
In her work on the Mexican Revolution, Dell was able to explain 10% of the variation in the data, which she considers significant given the complexity of the world.
Influence of Institutions
Institutions play a significant role in economic development.
For example, in Vietnam, the presence of institutions was a significant factor in economic development, even when controlling for the percentage of the population that identifies as Chinese.
Places that have a long history of governance seem better able to do that more recently… they’re richer, they’re better off. – Melissa Dell
Persistence in Vietnamese History
The Vietnamese state was very effective at integrating new territories, which led to the persistence of local norms and customs.
This, in turn, influenced local governance and economic development.
Having a state that is capable of monopolizing violence and providing public goods is largely a prerequisite for economic development. – Melissa Dell
Persistence Due to Lack of Change
The persistence of economic development is largely due to the lack of a force to bring about change.
In the absence of a strong state or external pressure, the existing structures for governing and economic organization tend to reproduce over time.
Power Dynamics in Economic Development
Those with power and economic resources will do everything in their capacity to maintain them, leading to persistence in economic structures and development.