Investments in roads and cities can shape an economy for hundreds of years. Economists now show how punctual investments in education can last as long.
The Jesuits arrived late in the homeland of the Guarani people where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet. But their missions flourished until 1767, when King Charles III of Spain expelled all the Jesuits from the Spanish Empire.
Yet even 250 years later, people living near the ruins of Jesuit missions complete their education by 10 to 15% and earn 10% more than the inhabitants of equivalent cities without a mission, according to a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics .
Measuring an intangible asset through centuries requires intelligent techniques. This also requires the perfect natural experience. The economist Felipe Valencia Caicedo of the University of British Columbia relies on both.
Valencia's analysis is one of the most striking studies showing that returns to education and vocational training span generations, if not centuries.
A historical experience
You would need a randomized experience to really separate education from the confounders that usually accompany it. You would collect entire communities and place them in an isolated area. You would divide them into equivalent treatment and control groups, and watch everyone carefully for a period or two.
Valencia could not do it for obvious ethical and practical reasons. But he found the next best thing. The 34-year-old Colombian, who studied economics at Brown, Yale, the London School of Economics, and the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, has long been fascinated by Latin America's colonial past. It focused on this isolated archipelago of Jesuit missions, because they were free from complications making it impossible to understand the effects of missions based, for example, in the megalopolis of Sao Paulo.
Founded in 1534, three decades before the construction of its first mission in South America, the Jesuit movement, with its technology and methodology, was advanced for its time. Importantly for this study, its members focused on education. Their Guarani missions were considered a egalitarian and utopian experience, winning fans as famous as Voltaire and Rousseau.
During the 30 missions that Valencia studied, the Jesuits taught the men and women of the Guarani tribe the forge, the calculation and the embroidery. These efforts were stopped after the expulsion of the Jesuits.
The clean break is the ideal starting point for an economic analysis.
"Apart from moral considerations, colonialism is for us, in economics, a beautiful historical experience to study areas that are important to us," said Valencia. "We are not colonialists … but we can study these effects."
Measure the effects
By gathering archival data from the Vatican, Spain, Paraguay and Argentina, Valencia has found ample evidence that Jesuit training continued to influence the education and society of the Guarani who lived near the missions.
Every 100 kilometers closer to a mission, poverty rates drop by 10 percent and school enrollment increases by about 0.7 years. Historical data show that the effect was sharper 75 or 100 years ago, but as the national literacy rate approaches the 100% maximum, the differences fade.
Valencia, variable after variable, has returned to the same positive trend. This is not an endorsement of the methods of the Jesuits; he said his work shows the enduring power of investing in human beings, not the enduring power of colonialism or Catholicism.
"This newspaper does not say that missions are good," said Valencia. "This document does not say that Catholicism is good or has had any negative effects. This newspaper says that even though people converted indigenous peoples to Catholicism, they also taught them skills. "
Leonard Wantchekon, economist at Princeton, in collaboration with Marko Klašnja of Georgetown and Natalija Novta of the International Monetary Fund, used a different methodology, but came to a similar conclusion in his analysis of the long-term effects of missionary schools in the early twentieth century. century in Benin.
Their An analysis, published in the same newspaper, revealed that the benefits of schooling were contagious – one of the reasons that may explain why the benefits of education persist for generations.
"Children whose parents were out of school but lived close to those who went to school did so as well as those whose parents were in school," Wantchekon said. "In other words, aspirations played an important role in intergenerational mobility."
The University of Michigan economist, Hoyt Bleakley, has published several influential works that measure the long-term fallout from circumstances ranging from hookworm eradication in the southern United States. United to the river portages of the east coast. He said the work of Wantchekon and Valencia showed the sustainability of some human capital investments.
"These relatively old institutions of human capital building seem to leave a fairly significant footprint for future generations," said Bleakley. "Maybe for centuries". According to Bleakley, it is difficult to separate the effect of education from that of cultures and institutions that tend to be adopted by educated people.
Any armchair statistician can tell you that these conclusions are almost useless if they reflect a third variable, such as desirable location or high population density, which explains both the location mission and level of education. This is why Valencia – like all economists doing this kind of research – has made extraordinary efforts to highlight correlation and correlation.
Because they arrived after the Franciscans and others had claimed prime mission territories, the Jesuits were forced to build their missions in insignificant places. Today, settlement areas near missions are not more densely populated than those around them. Valence's satellite data analysis also shows that temperatures, terrain and climate are not conducive to crop growth. They are not closer to rivers or the coast.
Valencia has found a number of natural control groups. People who have immigrated to these communities, for example, do not show the same educational trends as people born in the country.
The Franciscans also helped. The beggar order had been in the area longer than the Jesuits. He was not deported. But Franciscans have focused on poverty and health rather than on education and vocation. Valencia found that families' economic and educational outcomes may not vary depending on their distance from such missions.
Perhaps the Jesuits had a supernatural ability to choose places that would later attract educated people? We can also exclude it. The Jesuits began a mission in many places, but quickly abandoned it for reasons unrelated to its economic viability. Even these places, compared to similar sites with long-term Jesuit missions, produced no measurable effect.
Finally, Valencia excluded institutions, which development economists consider a likely factor in such cases. Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay have had extremely different governments, datasets, and institutional experiences over the centuries that it has studied, but they all showed similar trends.
Valencia did not just exclude other possible explanations. He also established some reasons why the areas near the missions have tended to succeed at higher rates even nowadays.
People close to missions were more likely to pass on knowledge from generation to generation. The Valencia survey showed this not only for the skills taught by missionaries, such as embroidery, journaling and bookkeeping, but also for traditional medicine and folklore that are not directly related to the Jesuit mission. .
Historical mission descriptions focus on vocational training that goes beyond agriculture and focuses on trades and service industries. Today, areas close to missions are more industrialized than their neighbors and tend to have more people employed in industries related to the professions emphasized by missionaries, such as blacksmithing and teaching.
This does not mean that the differences remain constant or that the story is a destiny. Areas near missions have adopted innovations more easily than their peers. Between 1996 and 2006, farmers close to the missions in Brazil were quicker to plant new soya, derived from genetics, than the more distant one.
"It's not that things are immutable," Valencia said. "It is precisely because of this historic shock on human capital that people can change faster and adapt more quickly to change."
The persistence of the educational and cultural imprint of this historic shock – an educational mission interrupted about 10 years before the US war of independence – is irrefutable proof that investing in people generates long-term returns.