SOME COUNTRIES PRODUCE SO MUCH MORE OUTPUT PER WORKER THAN OTHERS: Introduction 2

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Our hypothesis is that differences in capital accumulation, productivity, and therefore output per worker are fundamentally related to differences in social infrastructure across countries. By social infrastructure, we mean the institutions and government policies that determine the economic environment within which individuals accumulate skills, and firms accumulate capital and produce output. A social infrastructure favorable to high levels of output per worker provides an environment that supports productive activities and encourages capital accumulation, skill acquisition, invention, and technology transfer. Such a social infrastructure gets the prices right so that, in the language of North and Thomas (1973), individuals capture the social returns to their actions as private returns. website

Social institutions to protect the output of individual productive units from diversion are an essential component of a social infrastructure favorable to high levels of output per worker. Thievery, squatting, and Mafia protection are examples of diversion undertaken by private agents. Paradoxically, while the government is potentially the most efficient provider of social infrastructure that protects against diversion, it is also in practice a primary agent of diversion throughout the world. Expropriation, confiscatory taxation, and corruption are examples of public diversion. Regulations and laws may protect against diversion, but they all too often constitute the chief vehicle of diversion in an economy.