MIT economics student’s study of Peru shows how practices from hundreds of years ago can influence prosperity today. The paper, under review at the journal Econometrica, is akin to the work of Dell’s graduate advisor, MIT economist Daron Acemoglu.
The student, Melissa Dell (a PhD student in MIT’s Department of Economics), compared communities near Potosi in Peru. One set of communities had been required to provide unpaid labor to the rich silver mines from the late 16th century to the early 19th century through a system called the mita. The other communities had not been subject to the mita. Both sets of communities were similar in terms of the crops grown, their altitudes and their ethnic compositions. The mita communities had been allowed to remain in subsistence farms, while the non-mita communities had been developed for centuries into large rural estates owned by members of the ruling class, It appears that the estate owners had successfully lobbied for roads and infrastructure and there remain infrastructure differences.
"Dell found that the areas once subject to conscription feature a level of household consumption today that is 25 percent below that of the neighboring, non-mita communities. Moreover, in old mita locales, 6 percent more of the children have stunted growth than in the other areas. In short, places subject to the mita from the late 16th century through the early 19th century are significantly poorer in the 21st century."
Peter Dizikes, MIT News, April 16, 2010