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The colonial origins of comparative development

We try to disentangle these three hypotheses by following two strategies. First, we extensively control in our regressions for proxies capturing both the advancement of a group and national-level effects of precolonial centralization. Second, we test some nuanced predictions of the “local accountability” view that are unlikely to hold under the two alternative hypotheses. In Sect. 4 we develop the first strategy. By using our anthropological dataset we build several indexes that, together with more traditional country-level measures, capture the key factors anthropologists view as attributes of socioeconomic advancement: urbanization and population density, easiness of transportation, use of writing, technological level, use of money, absence of slavery, fixity of residence, dependence on agriculture. As for national politics, we control for postcolonial national outcomes (such as constraints on the executive 123 J Econ Growth (2007) 12:185–234 187 and civil wars) as well as for colonial factors (such as the identity of colonizer and the year of independence). Consistent with the “local accountability” view, the results indicate that—as measured by our proxies—neither ethnic groups’ socioeconomic advancement nor national politics can fully account for the positive impact of precolonial centralization on public goods in colonial and postcolonial Africa. Section 5 proposes a test to further distinguish the “local accountability” view from the alternative hypotheses. The test is based on the historical evidence that, by increasing the accountability of local chiefs, precolonial centralization had two main benefits: it reduced local tyranny (i.e., the extent to which local chiefs could abuse their masses) and it fostered the coordination between the chiefs of different districts (e.g., Apter 1961; Tosh 1978). Thus, the “local accountability” view implies that the impact of precolonial centralization on public goods provision should dep