Fernando Arteaga, Desiree Desierto, Mark Koyama, 04 December 2020

When the galleon San José sank in a typhoon in 1694, it was carrying a cargo worth 2% of the GDP of the entire Spanish empire. Fernando Arteaga, Desiree Desierto and Mark Koyama tell Tim Phillips about how bribes sank Spanish treasure ships.

Fernando Arteaga, Desiree Desierto, Mark Koyama, 25 October 2020

The Spanish Crown had a monopoly on the trade route between Manila and Mexico for more than 250 years. The ships that sailed this route were “the richest ships in all the oceans”, but much of the wealth sank at sea and remain undiscovered. This column uses a newly constructed dataset of all of the ships that travelled the route to show how monopoly rents that allowed widespread bribe-taking would have led to overloading and late ship departure, thereby increasing the probability of shipwreck. Not only were late and overloaded ships more likely to experience shipwrecks or to return to port, but the effect is stronger for galleons carrying more valuable, higher-rent cargo. This sheds new light on the costs of rent-seeking in European colonial empires.

Eli Berman, Mitch Downey, Joe Felter, 15 February 2016

The bloody conflicts in Syria and Iraq have forced the issue of refugees onto the global agenda. However, among the neglected aspects of this discussion are how governance can be restored to conflict regions and the welfare effects that such actions, which are likely to be coercive, will have on local residents. This column examines the impact of a counter-insurgency programme in the Philippines on one development outcome in contested territories – malnutrition of young children. The programme saw a substantial long-term decrease in malnutrition in recaptured areas, but a rise in malnutrition in neighbouring areas. Such efforts may simply displace insurgents and their negative effects, rather than reducing them.

Ronald Mendoza, 11 March 2012

Inequality in the world’s poorest countries is considered one of the main barriers to development. But this column points out that the inequality is about much more than the über-rich and the destitute – it is about access to political power. This column looks at political dynasties, where leadership is passed down through family ties, to see if these are a cause of the persistent social and economic divides.

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