Why Nations, and Regions, Fail in Quibdó  

Quibdó is the poorest department of Colombia, once the home of intensive slave labor (around 75% of the population of what is now Chocó were slaves in the late colonial period).

It is now one of the most isolated parts of the country. The nearest thing to a road connecting Quibdó to the rest of Colombia is a mud track from Medellín which apparently takes about 12 hours to traverse the 189 kms (according to Google Maps). This is slow even by Congolese standards.

If you get to Quibdó there are not really any other roads, all traffic goes by the great Atrato River and its tributaries. The Chocó borders the Pacific to the West and the Panama and the Caribbean to the North. To get from Quibdó to the beautiful beaches of the Pacific you take, OK you guessed it, a plane, since there isn’t a road.

This week Why Nations Fail was in Quibdó at the invitation of Paula Moreno and her NGO Manos Visibles (Visible Hands).

Manos Visibles organized the first of a regional workshop on “The Pacific and its challenges of Governance” (see the web site here), and invited Jim to talk about how the ideas in Why Nations Fail could be applied to explain the underdevelopment of the Chocó.

To give you a sense of this around 80% of the population of the department live below the poverty line and income per capita is 40% of the national level in Colombia. This gives the Chocó an income per capita of a country like Guatemala or Honduras in Central America, or alternatively India or Indonesia.

As we argued in our previous post on Mexican regions, the framework of our book can be fruitfully applied to explain why regions fail.

There is a lot of variation within a country in the extent to which institutions are extractive and some parts (like the US South historically or the South of Italy) had and have in the Italian case, much more extractive institutions than other parts of the country.

In the case of the Chocó, there is a heavy legacy of slavery which we investigated systematically in our joint work with Camilo García-Jimeno of the University of Pennsylvania. In our paper “Finding Eldorado”, we found that this legacy of extractive economic institutions is associated not only with lower incomes but also with intense neglect by the state as attested in this case by the complete absence of any attempt to connect the department to the rest of the country. This lack of state capacity in parts of Colombia is also the subject of ongoing research with Camilo, on which we hope to report sometime soon.

For now, those interested can look at Jim’s lecture slides applying the framework of Why Nations Fail to Colombia and the Chocó (unfortunately only in Spanish).

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