Development that Works
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    This blog highlights effective ideas in the fight against poverty and exclusion, and analyzes the impact of development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • The mission




    When the movie The Mission came out 28 years ago it was trashed by some critics:

    “Mr. Irons looks saintly and speaks in the cultivated English of the West End theater. Mr. De Niro’s [….] New York accent doesn’t easily fit lines like ”Leave, priest” or ”So me you do not love”. [….] The Indians, about whom the film seems to care so much, are condescended to as mostly smiling, trusting, undifferentiated aspects of Eden – innocents with sweet singing voices and a lot of rhythm.

    As someone who has worked for a long time in the multilateral development bank world, where business trips are called missions, I always knew that – at some point – something good had to come out of a movie with that title. I mean, The Mission was written by the same man who wrote Lawrence of Arabia.

    A recent paper explores the long term effects of the Jesuit missions in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay:

    This article documents the positive long-term economic impact of the Jesuit Missions in South America, combining information from historical archives and municipal census data from Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Guarani Jesuit Missions (1609-1767) resulted in income levels that are 10% higher today than in neighboring municipalities. I stress human capital as the main channel of transmission, finding a 10-15% increase in educational attainment. Results are robust to the inclusion of geographic controls, the usage of placebos (abandoned missions) and instrumental variables (historical borders) estimation. Using historical censuses, human capital appears to be even higher when close to missionary districts. Such enduring educational differences are consistent with cultural mechanisms of inter-generational knowledge transmission and occupational persistence through labor specialization and changes in sectoral employment. Additional empirical tests suggest that migration, urbanization and tourism are not driving the results, and that the impact is specific to missions from the Jesuit (as opposed to the Franciscan) order.

    I am now waiting for the development take on Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto.

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