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Pre-colonial centralization, colonial activities and development in Latin America



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This reseach tests the hypothesis, emerging from historical and anthropological narratives, that pre-colonial centralization is associated with colonial state presence in Latin America. Using data on the spatial distribution of traditional ethnic home-lands, I combine data on pre-colonial centralization with geocoded information on colonial state presence, as proxied by the fiscal branches - Cajas Reales - of the Spanish Empire. I find that pre-colonial centralization is informative of the presence of colonial state. This finding is robust to the inclusion of several pre-colonial factors (e.g. agricultural productivity and pre-colonial population density). Building on historical evidence on the process of state formation in Latin America, this paper also document the effect of pre-colonial centralization on contemporary regional development. Using both data on economic activities (satellite night light) and individual data from Latinobarometro 2010, I find that pre-colonial centraliza- tion is related to economic activities and on individual attitudes towards the state. Results suggest a link between pre-colonial centralization, colonial state capacity and contemporary development.

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