Preindustrial and postwar economic development: Is there a link?

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In this article, we provide evidence for the hypothesis that a substantial portion of the conventionally unexplained variation in performance among LDCs is due to differences in economic and social preconditions to modern economic growth that have not heretofore received systematic attention in the economics literature. This study is to provides evidence that conceptualizing long-run social and economic development-most of it preceding the modern era-as a multistage process sheds light on the differential performances of countries in recent decades. In particular, we turn our attention to the initial position of societies composing a present-day nation on a production-system-intensity continuum that stretches from low-population-density hunter-gatherer societies, on the one extreme, to high-population-density agriculture-based societies marked by large states, taxation, and specialized commerce, on the other. We propose that this position is an important predictor of a nation's growth performance in recent decades, even after controlling for the determinants of growth treated in the standard literature. This link between preindustrial economies and recent growth performance suggests that premodern economies left their traces on societies' stocks of human and perhaps physical capital in ways that are not adequately measured by flows or stocks of formal schooling, initial income, or investment. Our hypothesis is that societies that are located closer to the high-intensity end of the continuum of premodern economic formations require a less dramatic transformation, in terms of economic practices and behaviors, and thus tend to make the shift to industrialization more rapidly than those societies that are located nearer to the opposite end of this continuum.

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Economic Development and Cultural Change