Law and Finance c. 1900

Aldo Musacchio

NBER Working Paper No. 16216
Issued in July 2010
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

How persistent are the effects of legal institutions adopted or inherited in the distant past? A substantial literature argues that legal origins have persistent effects that explain clear differences in investor protections and financial development around the world today (La Porta et al, 1998, 1999 and passim). This paper examines the persistence of the effects of legal origins by examining new estimates of different indicators of financial development in more than 20 countries in 1900 and 1913. The evidence presented does not yield robust results that can sustain the hypothesis of persistence effects of legal origin, but it is not powerful enough to reject it either. Then the paper examines if there were systematic differences in the extent of investor protections across countries, since that is the main channel through which legal origin affects financial development, and shows that all the evidence supports the idea of relative convergence in corporate governance practices across legal families circa 1900. The paper concludes that, if the evidence presented is representative, the variation observed in financial development around the world today is likely a product of events of the twentieth century rather than a consequence of long-term (and persistent) differences occasioned by legal traditions.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16216

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