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11.20 Geography and Growth

In recent years several scholars have revived the idea that geography has an

important influence on economic performance. There have been two strands

in this literature. The first, represented by the work of economists such as

Paul Krugman, Anthony Venables and Michael Porter, highlights the role of

increasing returns, agglomeration, size, clusters and location in the productivity

performance of nations and regions (see Krugman, 1991a, 1991b, 1997;

Krugman and Venables, 1995; Martin, 1999; Crafts and Venables, 2002;

Porter, 2003; Yang, 2003). With intellectual roots in the work of Alwyn

Young, Gunnar Myrdal and Nicholas Kaldor, the ‘new economic geography’

models highlight the impact of cumulative causation effects whereby success

breeds success. In these models globalization can initiate cumulative processes

that lead to the persistence of uneven spatial (urban, regional, and

international) development. As Crafts and Venables (2002) point out, in a

world dominated by increasing returns, cumulative causation, agglomerations

effects and path dependency, the prospects that increasing international integration

will lead to convergence are much less certain.

A second strand in the literature emphasizes the direct impact that geography

can have through climate, natural resources and topography. Such factors

obviously influence the health of a population, agricultural productivity, the

economic structure of an economy, transport costs and the diffusion of information

and knowledge. Geography, it is argued, plays an important role in

determining the level and growth of income per capita (see Diamond, 1997;

Bloom and Sachs, 1998; Gallup et al., 1998; Bloom et al., 2003). For a

critique of this literature see Acemoglu et al., 2001, 2002a).

An important stimulus to the revival of interest in the impact of geography

on economic performance comes from the increasing recognition that income

per capita and latitude are closely related. Countries nearer to the equator,

with a few exceptions (such as Singapore), have lower income per capita and

HDI scores than countries located in more temperate zones. The strong

negative empirical association between living standards and proximity to the

tropical latitudes is strongly influenced by the ‘dismal growth performance of

the African continent’ which has produced the ‘worst economic disaster of

the twentieth century’ (Artadi and Sala-i-Martin, 2003; see also Easterly and

Levine, 1997; Collier and Gunning, 1999a, 1999b; Herbst, 2000). What accounts

for the extraordinarily poor economic performance of sub-Saharan

African economies during the second half of the twentieth century, particularly

since decolonization?

Bloom and Sachs (1998) have argued that six sets of factors have featured

in various accounts of the poor economic performance of sub-Saharan African

economies, namely explanations based on:

1. unfavourable external factors related to colonial and cold war legacies;

2. volatility in primary exports terms of trade;

3. internal politics conducive to authoritarianism and corruption;

4. dirigiste economic policies emphasizing import substitution and fiscal


5. demographic trends involving rapid population growth and a ‘stalled

demographic transition’; and

6. ethnic diversity and low levels of social capital (trust).

However, in addition to these factors, which have all played some role,

Bloom and Sachs believe that economists ought to ‘lift their gaze above

macroeconomic policies and market liberalisation’ and recognize the constraining

influence on sub-Saharan Africa development of its ‘extraordinarily

disadvantageous geography’. By having the highest proportion of land area

(93 per cent) and population (659 million, in 2000) of all the world’s tropical

regions, sub-Saharan Africa, by virtue of its climate, soils, topography and

disease ecology, suffers from low agricultural productivity, poor integration

with the international economy and poor health and high disease burdens

now boosted with the onset of an AIDS epidemic. According to the World

Bank Development Report (2002), sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest per

capita income of all the major regions of the world ($480, and PPP$1560). In

1999 sub-Saharan Africa’s life expectancy of 47 years was also the lowest,

and sub-Saharan Africa’s under-5 mortality rate of 159 per 1000 births the

highest, in the world. Certainly, the evidence supports a positive link between

the health of nations and their ability to accumulate wealth (Bloom et al.,


The influence of geographical factors on economic growth and development

was not lost on Adam Smith (1776), who recognized that success in

trade was greatly enhanced by having easy access to water transportation.

Smith (1776) noted that

it is upon the sea-coast, and along the river banks of navigable rivers, that industry

of every kind naturally begins to subdivide and improve itself … All the inland

parts of Africa, and all that part of Asia which lies any considerable way north of

the Black and Caspian seas … seem in all ages of the world to have been in the

same barbarous and uncivilised state in which we find them at present.

Recently, Rappaport and Sachs (2003) have shown that economic activity in

the USA is overwhelmingly concentrated along or near its ocean and Great

Lakes coastal regions. As Adam Smith recognized, proximity to coastal regions

greatly enhances productivity performance and the quality of life.

Whilst not arguing a new case of geographical determinism, and also

recognizing the crucial role played by economic policies, Bloom and Sachs

believe that ‘good policies must be tailored to geographical realities’. They

conclude that Africa will be well served if economists take advantage in their

research of ‘much greater cross-fertilisation’ from the accumulated knowledge

in other fields such as demography, epidemiology, agronomy, ecology

and geography. Thus an important divide in the world does exist, but it is not

between North and South; rather it is between countries located in temperate

latitudes compared to those in the tropics (see also Sachs and Warner, 1997;

Diamond, 1997; Hall and Jones, 1999; Landes, 1990, 1998; Sachs, 2003).

Finally in this section we draw attention to the recent research on the ‘natural

resource curse’, that is, the tendency of some countries that possess abundant

natural resources to grow more slowly than natural resource-poor countries.

While democracies such as the USA, Canada and Norway tend to manage oil

and other natural resources well, this is far from the case in countries governed

by predatory kleptocratic autocrats where the presence of ‘black gold’ stimulates

rent-seeking behaviour, political instability and, in the extreme, civil war

(see Sachs and Warner, 2001; Eifert et al., 2003). As Sala-i-Martin and

Subramanian (2003) document, ‘Nigeria has been a disastrous development

experience’ despite having large oil resources. Successive corrupt military

dictatorships have simply plundered the oil revenues. In contrast to Nigeria, the

experience of Botswana, with its lucrative diamond resources, has been completely

different. The economic success of Botswana is mainly due to the

quality of its governance and institutions (see Acemoglu et al., 2003).