Initial Conditions, Institutional Dynamics and Economic Performance: Evidence from the American States

Date of Original Version



Working Paper

Abstract or Description

Using state-level data from the United States, we find that differences in colonial legal institutions have affected the current quality of state legal institutions. These differences in colonial legal institutions arose because some states were settled by Great Britain, a common law country, and other states were settled by France, Spain, and Mexico, all civil law countries. To explain these findings, we develop a transplant-civil law hypothesis that highlights the disruption associated with large-scale legal transplantation and the possible relative inefficiencies of colonial civil law. We find strong support for the transplant-civil law hypothesis. Our results are robust to the inclusion of additional variables capturing climate, geography, initial population, resource endowments, state level rules, and legal environment. Given the 150-200 year gap between the initial conditions and the measures of the current quality of legal institutions, we provide indirect evidence on the persistence of legal institutions. We then use initial legal systems as a source of exogenous variation in current institutions for providing a series of estimates of their impact on current economic performance.