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Trade and Geography in the Economic Origins and Spread of Islam: Theory and Evidence

Stelios Michalopoulos (), Alireza Naghavi () and Giovanni Prarolo ()

No 96, Economics Working Papers from Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Science

Abstract: This research examines the economic origins and spread of Islam and uncovers two empirical regularities. First, Muslim countries, virtual countries and ethnic groups, exhibit highly unequal regional agricultural endowments. Second, Muslim adherence is systematically larger along the pre- Islamic trade routes in the Old World. The theory argues that this particular type of geography (i) determined the economic aspects of the religious doctrine upon which Islam was formed, and (ii) shaped its subsequent economic performance. It suggests that the unequal distribution of land endowments conferred differential gains from trade across regions, fostering predatory behavior from the poorly endowed ones. In such an environment it was mutually beneficial to institute an economic system featuring direct income transfers and restrictions on physical capital accumulation. The latter rendered the investments on public goods, through religious endowments, increasingly attractive. As a result, capital accumulation remained low and wealth inequality bounded. Geography and trade shaped the set of economically relevant religious principles of Islam affecting its economic trajectory in the preindustrial world.

Keywords: Religion; Islam; Geography; Physical Capital; Human Capital; Land Inequality; Wealth Inequality; Trade (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: O10 O13 O16 O17 O18 F10 Z12 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2009-07, Revised 2011-05
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