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Cantoni, Davide and Yuchtman, Noam (January 2012): Educational Content, Educational Institutions and Economic Development: Lessons from History. Discussion Papers in Economics 2012-2
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Abstract

Individuals’ choices of educational content are often shaped by the political economy of government policies that determine the incentives to acquire various skills. We first present a model to show how differences in educational content emerge as an equilibrium outcome of private decisions and government policy choices. We then illustrate these dynamics in two historical circumstances. In medieval Europe, states and the Church found individuals trained in Roman law valuable, and eventually supported investments in this new form of human capital. This had positive effects on Europe’s commercial and institutional development. In late 19th-century China, elites were afraid of the introduction of Western science and engineering and continued to select civil servants - who enjoyed substantial rents—based on their knowledge of Confucian classics. As a result, China lacked skills useful in modern industry. Finally, we present a variety of other contemporary and historical applications of this theory.