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How the Reconquista still shapes Spain’s economy

Geoff Riley

25th August 2016

The Christian kingdoms’ reconquest of Spain between the eight and fifteenth centuries set in motion processes that generated persistent inequality, which remains evident in big income differences among Spanish provinces today. This is the central finding of research by Daniel Oto-Peralías and Diego Romero-Ávila, presented at the annual congress of the European Economic Association in Geneva in August 2016.

The study finds that the inequality created in some parts of the recolonised country constitutes a severe impediment to the requirements for modern economic growth – which is based on entrepreneurship, innovation and the participation in economic activity of broad segments of the population.

From 711-1492, Spain’s Christian kingdoms steadily retook land that had previously been Muslim-ruled in what is known as the Reconquista. Sometimes this newly reclaimed land was shared among settlers; at other times, the land ended up in the hands of a few nobles. Today, these regions are some of Spain’s richest and poorest respectively.

The new study argues that the main cause of this inequality was the speed at which the land was retaken – the ‘rate of Reconquest’. Regions that were retaken quickly needed power centralised among the nobility so as to defend them, and these people continued to stay in control long afterwards.

These regions ended up become more unequal and worse-off than regions that were retaken slowly and could be distributed more fairly. They were ultimately slower to industrialise, continuing a chain of events that led to low growth and even to the 1936-39 Civil War.

Geoff Riley

Geoff Riley FRSA has been teaching Economics for over thirty years. He has over twenty years experience as Head of Economics at leading schools. He writes extensively and is a contributor and presenter on CPD conferences in the UK and overseas.

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