Nathan Nunn is a Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Professor Nunn was born in Canada, where he received his PhD from the University of Toronto in 2005. Professor Nunn’s primary research interests are in economic history, economic development, political economy and international trade. He is an NBER Faculty Research Fellow, a Research Fellow at BREAD, and a Faculty Associate at Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA). He is also currently co-editor of the Journal of Development Economics.
One stream of Nunn’s research focuses on the long-term impact that historic events can have on current economic development. In “Historical Legacies: A Model Linking Africa’s Past to its Current Underdevelopment”, published in the Journal of Development Economics in 2007, Nunn develops a game-theoretic model showing how the slave trade and colonial rule could have had permanent long-term effects on economic performance. In “The Long-Term Effects of Africa’s Slave Trades” (Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2008), Nunn documents the long-term adverse economic effects of Africa’s slave trades. His current research continues to examine the specific channels through which the slave trade affects current development within Africa. In "The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa" (American Economic Review, 2011), coauthored with Leonard Wantchekon, he empirically documents how the slave trade engendered a culture of mistrust amongst the descendants of those heavily threatened by the slave trade.
A second stream of Professor Nunn’s research focuses on the importance of hold-up and incomplete contracting in international trade. He has published research showing that a country’s ability to enforce written contracts is a key determinant of comparative advantage (“Relationship-Specificity, Incomplete Contracts and the Pattern of Trade,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2007). Other work, coauthored with Daniel Trefler, examines the relationship between the cross-industry structure of a country's tariffs and its long-term economic growth (“The Structure of Tariffs and Long-Term Growth,” American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 2010). The study identifies growth promoting benefits of a tariff structure focused in skill-intensive industries. It also shows how and why governments that succumb to political influence and rent-seeking are unable to focus tariffs in these key industries.