Article | American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics

Was the Wealth of Nations Determined in 1000 B.C.?

by Diego A. Comin, Bill Easterly and Erick Gong


We assemble a dataset on technology adoption in 1000 B.C., 0 A.D., and 1500 A.D. for the predecessors to today's nation states. We find that this very old history of technology adoption is surprisingly significant for today's national development outcomes. Our strong and robust results are for 1500 A.D. determining per capita income today. We find technological persistence across long epochs: from 1000 B.C. to 0 A.D., from 0 A.D. to 1500 A.D., and from 1500 A..D to the present. Although the data allow only some suggestive tests of rival hypotheses to explain long-run technological persistence, we find the evidence to be most consistent with a model of endogenous technology adoption where the cost of adopting new technologies declines sufficiently with the current level of adoption. The evidence is less consistent with a dominant role for population as predicted by the semi-endogenous growth models or for country-level factors like culture, genes, or institutions.

Keywords: Cost Accounting; Technology; Technology Adoption; Growth and Development; Adoption; Business Strategy; Cost; Cost Management; Cross-Cultural and Cross-Border Issues; Culture; Technology Industry;


Comin, Diego A., Bill Easterly, and Erick Gong. "Was the Wealth of Nations Determined in 1000 B.C.?" American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics 2, no. 3 (July 2010): 65–97.