Conference on Comparative Economic Growth

Spring 2023

This conference is closed to the public.

This conference takes a comparative approach to understanding the determinants of economic growth across countries. We revisit a literature which dates back to Adam Smith, took off in the 1960s, and flowered again in the 1990s with seminal theoretical contributions by Robert Lucas and Paul Romer and empirical contributions by Harvard’s Robert Barro (“Economic Growth in a CrossSection of Countries,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1991) and Greg Mankiw (“The Empirics of Economic Growth,” with David Romer and David Weil, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1992).

Before this work, much of standard economic growth theory suggested that incomes and capital labor ratios across countries over time would converge. Barro’s work showed that historically there had been no long-run tendency toward convergence in capital or income per person across countries when considering the world as a whole. His later work with Sala-i-Martin showed that there had been such convergence within countries. This work pioneered the modern comparative approach that seeks to shed light on the sources of the long-run differences in income per capita across countries.

Since the turn of the millennium, the literature has turned toward the comparative historical analysis of institutions and culture. Now is an opportune time to reexamine the empirical comparative literature on economic growth and development and to consider the implications for theory. First, during the period since the publication of Barro’s papers, there has been a marked change in a key pattern he documented, with poorer countries now catching up with richer countries. This is not just an artifact of the rapid growth of China and India, but seems to be part of a much more systematic pattern. Moreover, methodological advances may make it possible to address one of the limitations of the earlier literature: the difficulty of obtaining assessing causality in cross-country data due to the relative scarcity of exogenous sources of variation.

Cosponsored by the Department of Economics, Harvard University.

Note: This conference was originally scheduled for Spring 2021 and Spring 2022, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

See also: Conferences, 2023