Published Papers

Robinson, James A, Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and Pierre Yared. 2009. “Reevaluating the Modernization Hypothesis.” Journal of Monetary Economics 56: 1043-1058. Abstract
We revisit and critically reevaluate the widely accepted modernization hypothesis which claims that per capita income causes the creation and the consolidation of democracy. Existing studies find support for this hypothesis because they fail to control for the presence of omitted variables. Controlling for these factors either by including country fixed effects in a linear model or by including parameterized random effects in a nonlinear double hazard model removes the correlation between income and the likelihood of transitions to and from democratic regimes. In addition, the estimated fixed effects from the linear model are related to historical factors that affect both the level of income per capita and the likelihood of democracy in a country. This evidence is consistent with the idea that events during critical historical junctures can lead to divergent political–economic development paths, some leading to prosperity and democracy, others to relative poverty and non-democracy.
Robinson, James A. 1996. “Rent Appropriation and Sustained Growth.” Economic Letters 50: 71-77. Abstract
This paper demonstrates that the introduction of imperfect competition into the labor market can solve the problem isolated by Jones and Manuelli (Journal of Economic Theory, 1992, 58, 171-197), and Boldrin (Journal of Economic Theory, 1992, 58, 198-218), that in economies with convex technologies and finitely lived agents, real wages may not grow fast enough for unbounded growth to be sustained. I show that if wages are determined by a bargaining solution, and if the bargaining power of the workforce is sufficiently high (if they appropriate a sufficiently large proportion of rents), then growth is unbounded. Moreover, the growth path generated by such an economy may improve the welfare of all generations apart from the initial old.
Robinson, James A, Daron Acemoglu, and Simon Johnson. 2002. “Reversal of Fortune: Geography and Institutions in the Making of the Modern World Income Distribution.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 118: 1231-1294. Abstract
Among countries colonized by European powers during the past 500 years, those that were relatively rich in 1500 are now relatively poor. We document this reversal using data on urbanization patterns and population density, which, we argue, proxy for economic prosperity. This reversal weighs against a view that links economic development to geographic factors. Instead, we argue that the reversal reflects changes in the institutions resulting from European colonialism. The European intervention appears to have created an "institutional reversal" among these societies, meaning that Europeans were more likely to introduce institutions encouraging investment in regions that were previously poor. This institutional reversal accounts for the reversal in relative incomes. We provide further support for this view by documenting that the reversal in relative incomes took place during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and resulted from societies with good institutions taking advantage of the opportunity to industrialize.
Robinson, James A, Daron Acemoglu, and Simon Johngson. 2005. “The Rise of Europe: Atlantic Trade, Institutional Change, and Economic Growth.” The American Economic Review 95 (3): 546-579. Abstract
The rise of Western Europe after 1500 is due largely to growth in countries with access to the Atlantic Ocean and with substantial trade with the New World, Africa, and Asia via the Atlantic. This trade and the associated colonialism affected Europe not only directly, but also indirectly by inducing institutional change. Where "initial" political institutions (those established before 1500) placed significant checks on the monarchy, the growth of Atlantic trade strengthened merchant groups by constraining the power of the monarchy, and helped merchants obtain changes in institutions to protect property rights. These changes were central to subsequent economic growth.
Robinson, James A, and Jean-Marie Baland. 2002. “Rotten Parents.” Journal of Public Economics 84: 341-356. Abstract
We study the implications of the trade-off between child quality and child quantity for the efficiency of the rate of population growth. We show that if quantity and quality are inversely related then, even in the case of full altruism within the family, population growth is inefficiently high, if the family does not have, or does not choose to use, compensating instruments (for example, bequests or savings are at a corner). In non-altruistic models this trade-off certainly generates a population problem. We therefore prove that the repugnant conclusion is not only repugnant, it may be inefficient. Moreover, we cannot expect intra-family contracting to resolve the inefficiency since it involves contracts which are not credible.
Robinson, James A, and Neil Q Parsons. 2006. “State Formation and Governance in Botswana.” Journal of African Economies 15 (AERC Supplement 1): 100-140. Abstract
Our analysis begins with the puzzle: how did Botswana develop a legal rational state? We suggest that three key interlinked factors were important. First, during the pre-colonial period the Tswana developed local states with relatively limited kingship or chiefship and with a political structure that was able to integrate people of other ethnic groups such as Kalanga. Second, facing the onslaught first of the Boers, next of the British South Africa Company, and finally of the Union of South Africa, Tswana political elites attempted to maintain a good measure of independence by defensively modernizing. Finally, the political elites in both local states before independence and the national state at independence heavily invested in the country's most important economic activity, ranching. This gave them a strong incentive to promote rational state institutions and private property. Moreover, the integrative nature of traditional Tswana political institutions reduced the likelihood that alternative groups would aggressively contest the power of the new unitary state.
Robinson, James A, Daron Acemoglu, Pablo Querubín, and Simon Johnson. 2008. “When Does Policy Reform Work? The Case of Central Bank Independence.” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, no. Spring 2008: 351-421. Abstract
Questions of the effectiveness of economic policy reform are inseparable from the political economy factors responsible for distortionary policies in the first place. Distortionary policies are more likely to be adopted where politicians face fewer constraints. Hence reform should have modest effects in societies where the political system already imposes strong constraints, and in societies with weak constraints, because it does not alter the underlying political economy. Reform should be most effective in societies with intermediate constraints. Furthermore, effective reform in one dimension may lead to deterioration in others, as politicians address the underlying demands through other means—a phenomenon we call the seesaw effect. We report evidence that central bank reforms reduced inflation in countries with intermediate constraints but had no or little effect where constraints were strong or weak. We also present evidence consistent with the seesaw effect: in countries where central bank reform reduces inflation, government expenditure tends to increase.
Robinson, James A, and Daron Acemoglu. 2000. “Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Growth, Inequality and Democracy in Historical Perspective.” Quarterly Journal of Economics CXV: 1167-1199. Abstract
During the nineteenth centurymostWestern societies extended voting rights, a decision that led to unprecedented redistributive programs. We argue that these political reforms can be viewed as strategic decisions by the political elite to prevent widespread social unrest and revolution. Political transition, rather than redistribution under existing political institutions, occurs because current transfers do not ensure future transfers, while the extension of the franchise changes future political equilibria and acts as a commitment to redistribution. Our theory also offers a novel explanation for the Kuznets curve in many Western economies during this period, with the fall in inequality following redistribution due to democratization.