The 3ie-IFPRI seminar series is designed to highlight innovative papers on impact evaluation and facilitate discussion of new impact evaluation research. The seminars are held on one Thursday of each month from 12:30-2:00pm at IFPRI’s Washington DC headquarters (2033 K St. NW). To RSVP to any event, please contact Sara Gustafson (email@example.com)
September 11: The Economic Effects of Transportation Infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa
Speaker: Remi Jedwab, George Washington University
Discussant: Clifford Winston, Brookings Institute
Conference Room 8A
View the seminar at the scheduled time via GoToMeeting.
What is the impact of modern transportation technology on long-run economic change in poor countries with high trade costs? Rail construction in colonial Sub-Saharan Africa provides a natural experiment: 90% of African railroad lines were built before independence, in a context where headloading was the dominant transportation technology. Using new data on railroads and cities over one century for 39 countries, we find large permanent effects of transportation technology on economic development. First, colonial railroads had strong effects on urban growth before independence. We exploit various identification strategies to ensure these effects are causal. Second, using the fact that African railroads fell largely out of use post-independence, due to mismanagement and lack of maintenance, we show that colonial railroads had a persistent impact on cities. While colonial sunk investments (e.g., schools, hospitals and roads) partly contributed to urban path dependence, evidence suggests that railroad cities persisted because their early emergence served as a mechanism to coordinate contemporary investments for each subsequent period. Railroad cities are also wealthier than non-railroad cities of similar sizes today. This suggests a world where shocks to economic geography can trigger an equilibrium in which cities will emerge to facilitate the accumulation of factors, and thus have long-term effects on economic growth.