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One of the most salient explanations for the distinctive path of economic and political development of the United States is captured by the 'Frontier (or Turner) thesis'. Turner argued that it was the presence of the open frontier which explained why the United States became democratic and, at least implicitly, prosperous. In this paper they provide a simple test of this idea. The authors begin with the contradictory observation that almost every Latin American country had a frontier in the 19th century as well. They show that while the data does not support the Frontier thesis, it is consistent with a more complex 'Conditional Frontier thesis.'
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