April 05, 2019
Activities /
Posted by NCID

Why are there rich countries and poor countries? This question is not answered in a few words, or in a unique way. Even from an economic view, which should be the most appropriate discipline to approach it, there are not enough answers looking at today. It is necessary to look at history.

Romain Wacziarg, professor of Economics at the University of California at Los Angeles, presented on April 5 in Madrid his findings on this topic. The conference, titled Historical Barriers to the Wealth of Nations, was organized by the Navarra Center for International Development - the think tank of the Institute for Culture and Society of the University of Navarra - and the Fundación Ramón Areces, which hosted the event.

When looking back to history to find out the reasons underpinning why there are more and less developed countries there is one first step to take: “You have to know how far to pull the thread of time”, said Wacziarg. According to his research, which he shared with more than 200 attendees, we must go beyond phenomena such as the Industrial Revolution in England or the colonization of America and Africa by European powers, since there are factors of the current development of countries that can be explained even from the first migrations and technological advances of human beings.

Not even putting together the whole human history since the first year of the modern era is enough to explain why there are rich and poor countries. There are different factors that unite or separate countries and create what Wacziarg calls "cultural distance" —mainly geographical, linguistic and genetic factors—. Sharing culture permeates positive values to countries that have historically been related, helping them to develop in a similar way. However, the cultural proximity also has a negative effect, since the researcher assures that wars and violence intensify among people of the same community and culture. "People fight more with each other than with people from distant cultures," Wacziarg added.

In spite of everything, these "historical barriers" are not definitive and can be overcome. To do so, which it is not easy, countries have to apply the correct policies by learning from the experiences of other nations and adapting whatever is necessary to push down the doors for innovation in their society. According to Wacziarg, the challenge is also to see the glass half empty or, as he sees it, half full.

Finally, the speaker explained that history has, at best, a 50% effective in determining the development of nations. "The other 50% is decided by societies with their capacity to evolve and leave the past behind", concluded Wacziarg.