Colonialism and genetics of comparative development

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This study argues that European colonial policies and former colonies’ genetic variation (genetic distance to Europeans and genetic diversity) were interlinked. Over a prolonged period of time, populations that were genetically far from Europeans and had extreme levels of genetic diversity (e.g. in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas) adapted to environments that were significantly different from the climatic conditions of continental Europe. This resulted in a divergence in populations’ resistance to infectious diseases and positive relationships between European settler mortality at the time of colonization, genetic distance to the technological frontier, and genetic diversity. I evaluate the consequences of the aforementioned relationships first, for the role of genetic distance and diversity in development (e.g. Spolaore and Wacziarg, 2009; Ashraf and Galor, 2013), and second, for studies that use European settler mortality as an instrument for institutions (e.g. Acemoglu et al., 2001). The results highlight a potential bias in the estimates of the effect of genetic distance and diversity on contemporary development in a sample of former colonies and suggest that the effect of these measures on current economic and institutional outcomes is indirect and works through Europeans’ colonial policies.

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