O quinto é sempre o quinto: quanto perderia Portugal sem o império?

Excelente notícia (já não tão nova) é o trabalho a seguir, com uma estatística importante para estudiosos de história econômica. O título? The Great Escape? The Contribution of the Empire to Portugal’s Economic Growth, 1500-1800, de Leonor Freire Costa, Nuno Palma e Jaime Reis. Eis o resumo (as citações vão sem numerações de páginas porque o documento não as tem).

Newly assembled macroeconomic statistics for early modern Portugal reveal one of Europe’s most vigorous colonial traders and at the same time one of its least successful growth records. Using an estimated model in the spirit of Allen (2009) we conclude that intercontinental trade had a substantial and increasingly positive impact on economic growth. In the heyday of colonial expansion, eliminating the economic links to empire would have reduced Portugal’s per capita income by roughly a fifth. While the empire helped the domestic economy it was not sufficient to annul the tendency towards decline in relation to Europe’s advanced core which set in from the 17th century onwards. We conclude that the explanation for Portugal’s long-term backwardness must be sought primarily in domestic conditions.

Ironicamente, a perda seria de 20% (ou seja, um quinto).

Como dizem os autores, a pergunta geralmente feita é: quão importante foram as colônias para Portugal? Páginas e páginas já foram escritas sobre isto, mas poucos tiveram: (a) acesso a dados que lhes permitissem responder esta pergunta, (b) vontade de procurar dados e fugir da verborragia infértil, mas sedutora, (c) conhecimento de teoria econômica e métodos quantitativos adequados para responder ao questionamento.

Colônias eram importantes? Os autores, como não poderia deixar de ser, dizem que sim e explicam os motivos.

Colonies were beneficial to the home country in many ways. They allowed the mobilization of unused natural resources situated overseas, thereby creating some slack in Europe’s Malthusian constraint. They helped to reallocate underutilised domestic resources to the same destination and thus enhanced their productivity. They created new markets to serve as outlets for domestic production and as a result promoted scale economies and the division of labour. Thanks to the use of political and military might, imperial powers were also able to earn rents by distorting price mechanisms in the markets strung out along the chains of supply which connected them to their ultramarine possessions.

Para medir o desempenho, algum critério deveria ser adotado.

To encompass this diversity within a simple metric is no easy matter. One solution is to calculate separately the gains and losses from the many relevant types of activity, and then weight and aggregate those using appropriate prices. The alternative is to employ as a proxy a value index of each country’s total transoceanic trade and deflate it with a suitable set of commodity prices.

Sobre as conclusões, um desafio a algumas interpretações anteriores:

We conclude that in the long run Portugal’s empire demonstrated a considerable degree of dynamism and contributed positively to the economic fortunes of the mother country. This goes against the common belief in a “long-term stagnation of the [Iberian] colonial economies” (Coatsworth 2005, 237). Our paper also diverges from the approach of the proponents of “modern world-systems” (Wallerstein 1980) in that we show semi-peripheral Portugal was able to gain as much or more from its empire in relative terms as the leaders of the Early Modern core. At the same time, Portugal’s imperial strength did not translate into economic convergence to its colonial archrivals, which were also the richer economies of the day: England and the Netherlands.

Muito legal, não é?

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