Capitalist-led development does not work everywhere. Meddlesome governments and rapid population growth partly explain why some economies have fallen so far behind. But geography, climate and natural resources may play a larger role than has generally been acknowledged. There are many countries which have done most things according to the capitalist gospel yet cannot seem to attract foreign investment.
In sub-Saharan Africa growth was on average 4 percentage points below that of East Asia between 1965 and 1990. Bad government explained perhaps 1.7 percentage points of the difference. But a combination of lean natural resources, poor access to transportation and fragile tropical ecology explained 1 percentage point. Short life expectancy, linked to the incidence of tropical diseases, accounted for 1.3 percentage points. Locational problems were less critical in Latin America, accounting for just six-tenths of a percentage point of the region's 3.9 percentage point differential in growth with East Asia. But geography apparently did play a malevolent role in a handful of countries, notably Bolivia.
Tropical economies will barely reach half the gross domestic product per person of temperate zone countries in the foreseeable future, and then only if they get their act together on economic and population-containment policies.