Published: November 20, 2008
Paper Released: October 2008
Authors: Diego A. Comin, William Easterly, and Erick Gong
We assemble a dataset on technology adoption in 1000 B.C., 0 A.D., and 1500 A.D. for the predecessors to today's nation states. We find that this very old history of technology adoption is surprisingly significant for today's national development outcomes. Our strong and robust results are for 1500 A.D. determining per capita income today. We find technological persistence across long epochs: from 1000 B.C. to 0 A.D., from 0 A.D. to 1500 A.D., and from 1500 A.D. to the present. Although the data allow only some suggestive tests of rival hypotheses to explain long-run technological persistence, we find the evidence to be most consistent with a model of endogenous technology adoption where the cost of adopting new technologies declines sufficiently with the current level of adoption. The evidence is less consistent with a dominant role for population as predicted by the semi-endogenous growth models or for country-level factors like culture, genes or institutions.