What can the XXth century Portuguese experience teach us about the interaction between political regimes and literacy attainment?
“Do countries with less democratic forms of government necessarily have lower literacy rates as a consequence? Using a random sample of 4,600+ individuals from military archives in Portugal, we show that 20-year old males were twice as likely to end up literate under an authoritarian regime than under a democratic one. Our results are robust to controlling for a host of factors including economic growth, the disease environment, and regional fixed effects. We argue for a political economy and cultural explanation for the success of the authoritarian regime in promoting basic education.”
In a sense, this is a paper in the spirit of Edmund Burke’s argument that social change needs to be gradual, and cannot be changed by top-down design overnight.
To contextualize the paper further, note that Portugal during the first half of the XXth century was very poor. In 1910 it had a GDP per capita of international GK $1228, compared with 4,611 for England, and hence closer to that of Côte d’Ivoire today (1,195 in 2010). Even as late as 1950 Portugal, at IGK $2,086, was behind Mozambique today (with IGK $1876 in 2010), and was clearly poorer than Cape Verde today its last avaliable data year, 2008 (IGK $2,735). Source: the 2013 Maddison Project. (I haven’t updated these numbers using the new MPD but the general pattern won’t have changed much).