Colonial institutions matter, Brazilian style

Rent Seeking and the Unveiling of ‘De Facto’ Institutions: Development and Colonial Heritage within Brazil
Joana Naritomi, Rodrigo R. Soares, Juliano J. Assunção
March 2007

Abstract
This paper analyzes the roots and implications of variations in de facto institutions, within a
constant de jure institutional setting. We explore the role of rent-seeking episodes in colonial
Brazil as determinants of the quality of current local institutions, and argue that this variation
reveals a de facto dimension of institutional quality. We show that municipalities with origins
tracing back to the sugar-cane colonial cycle – characterized by a polarized and oligarchic
socioeconomic structure – display today more inequality in the distribution of land.
Municipalities with origins tracing back to the gold colonial cycle – characterized by an overbureaucratic
and heavily intervening presence of the Portuguese state – display today worse
governance practices and less access to justice. Using variables created from the rent-seeking
colonial episodes as instruments to current institutions, we show that local governance and
access to justice are significantly related to long-term development across Brazilian
municipalities.

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