You know what stops slavery? Terrible geography.

There is controversy about whether geography matters mainly because of its contemporaneous impact on economic outcomes or because of its interaction with historical events. Looking at terrain ruggedness, we are able to estimate the importance of these two channels. Because rugged terrain hinders trade and most productive activities, it has a negative direct effect on income. However, in Africa rugged terrain afforded protection to those being raided during the slave trades. Since the slave trades retarded subsequent economic development, in Africa ruggedness has also had a historical indirect positive effect on income. Studying all countries worldwide, we find that both effects are significant statistically and that for Africa the indirect positive effect dominates the direct negative effect. Looking within Africa, we also provide evidence that the indirect effect operates through the slave trades.

Source: “Ruggedness: The Blessing of Bad Geography in Africa” from National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 14918

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