Grafe and Irigoin’s revisionist take on the political economy of the Spanish Empire does not stand up to much scrutiny.
Revising our assessment of the Spanish empire is in vogue among economic historians. Most notably, Regina Grafe and Alejandra Irigoin (2006; 2008) have sought to revise the nature of the empire’s political economy. Their goal is to refute those who claim that the wealth gap between Anglo and Latin America today is due to the ‘extractive’ institutions established by the Spanish in their colonies compared to the more ‘inclusive’ institutions established by the British (e.g. North, Summerhill & Weingast 2000; Engerman & Sokoloff 2011; Acemoglu & Robinson 2012). While critiques of such deterministic narratives should be welcome, Grafe and Irigoin’s argument unfortunately rests on a misreading of their own data.