Robin Grier and Jerry F. Hough

The Long Process of Development

Building Markets and States in Pre-industrial England, Spain and their Colonies

Cambridge University Press 2014

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According to a popular saying, “Nothing succeeds like success.” As concernswhat economists and political scientists call “development”–that is, progress towards libertyand prosperity–the saying seems...

According to a popular saying, “Nothing succeeds like success.” As concernswhat economists and political scientists call “development”–that is, progress towards libertyand prosperity–the saying seems to be true. As a general rule, the countries that were relatively free and relatively prosperous 100 years ago are the ones that are relatively free and relatively prosperous today.200 years ago? Yes, more or less. 300 years ago? Well, probably. 400 years ago? A good argument could be made…

Why? According to one argument, the difference is caused by the rich praying on the poor. In a word, imperialism. But if you survey countries around the world, it’s not clear whether imperialism (and colonization) hurt or helped development. The Spanish thoroughly imperialized Mexico, and it’s pretty prosperous; no one really got into the interior of Africa and it’s not.  And what are we to make of developmental differences within, say, prosperous Europe? No real imperialism there; a lot of bloody war, but no imperialism as such. Germany is free and prosperous. Russia is not free and not prosperous. Why is that?

In their impressive and refreshing bookThe Long Process of Development: Building Markets and States in Pre-industrial England, Spain and their Colonies (Cambridge University Press, 2014),Jerry F. Hough and Robin Grier argue that it’s not so much imperialism that impedes development, but style of governance and, especially, time. If autocratic governments do nothing buttake rents, thesocieties they rule will not develop, not ever, no matter how long or hard the governmentstry to development them. If they are even semi-popular and pro-trade, they will develop, though it will take a very, very long time. There’s no magic built. You can’t simply import democracy and capitalism and hope for a rapid transitionto freedom and prosperity.The process of development takes centuries.

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