Africa: the problem is not corruption?

The Wall Street Journal reports a new paper by Paul Collier about the reasons why growth in Africa has been slower than elsewhere.

“African performance has been far worse than that of any other region,” Collier has written. “The explanation for this is not that African economic behavior is fundamentally different from elsewhere, but rather that African geographic endowments are distinctive.”

Note that geography, rather than corruption, explains the difference from Europe.  (Or, as Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson pointed out a few years ago, geography may have influenced the pattern of colonisation and subsequent development of effective institutions.)  Not much support for Jeff Sach's view that the problem is disease.

See the discussion over at Greg Mankiw's blog.

Update: Praguetory in the comments asks for my views.   They are:

a. I do not put as much weight on these cross country regressions as others.  They are statistically weak; though they do have some use as a way to check the validity of generalisations (eg 'most poor countries are in the tropics').

b.  Africa's geography does seem to be an important determinant of its poverty.  I think Collier and Sachs may both be right: the burden of malaria in Africa's lowlands has pushed a lot of settlement into highland areas, which in Africa are mainly inland, so exaggerating the geographic limitations of small, landlocked countries.

c.  I believe that corruption is an effect more than it is a cause of poverty and weak institutions.  If corruption is higher in some countries in Africa than it is elsewhere, this is because economic institutions have evolved more slowly, and I think both geography and disease are part of the explanation for that.  The geographic endowment has been made worse by the legacy of colonialisation, both by creating inappropriate political boundaries and by corroding Africa's own mechanisms of accountability and political economy.  So while I think corruption is a significant problem that has to be tackled as part of the development process, I do not think that Africa is poor mainly because of corruption, but rather that the root causes of Africa's poverty are also the causes of corruption. 

2 thoughts on “Africa: the problem is not corruption?”

  1. I buy the geography argument at least partially. Plus the lack of inter-African transport routes (which may well have been caused by either geography or the pattern of colonialism).

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