The literature on income gaps between Chiapas and the rest of Mexico revolves around individual factors, such as education and ethnicity. Yet, twenty years after the Zapatista rebellion, the schooling gap between Chiapas and the other Mexican entities has shrunk while the income gap has widened, and we find no evidence indicating that Chiapas indigenes are worse-off than their likes elsewhere in Mexico. We explore a different hypothesis. Based on census data, we calculate the economic complexity index, a measure of the knowledge agglomeration embedded in the economic activities at a municipal level in Mexico. Economic complexity explains a larger fraction of the income gap than any individual factor. Our results suggest that chiapanecos are not the problem, the problem is Chiapas. These results hold when we extend our analysis to Mexico’s thirty-one federal entities, suggesting that place-specific determinants that have been overlooked in both the literature and policy, have a key role in the determination of income gaps.
Miguel Ángel Santos is an Adjunct Lecturer in Empirical Methods at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and works as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Development (CID) at Harvard University. At CID, he is mostly involved in research projects aimed at helping governments to rethink their development strategies both at the national and sub-national levels. All of their engagements are tackled by multidisciplinary teams, staffed with Harvard scholars and CID Fellows specialized in the specific expertise required in each case. Since he joined CID in 2014, he has been involved in projects at the national level in Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, and at the sub-national level in Mexico he has worked in Chiapas, and Hermosillo-Sonora.
Before joining the field of international development, he worked for ten years in corporate finance and business development in Latin America, performing as Director of Finance for the Cisneros Group of Companies (1997-2003), Head of Corporate Finance for Mercantil Servicios Financieros (2005-2007), and Business Vice-President for Sony Pictures and Entertainment Latin America (2008-2009).
At that point, he decided to switch tracks and get involved in development economics. He went back to school and enrolled in two Master of Science degrees in International Finance and Trade (2011) and Economics (2012) from Universitat Pompeu Fabra, and went on to complete his Ph.D. in Economics at Universidad de Barcelona (2016). In the meantime, he had the opportunity to lead the Macroeconomic Policy Team for presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski in the Venezuelan elections of 2012, and complete the Master in Public Administration at Harvard Kennedy School of Government (2014).