Without Coal in the Age of Steam and Dams in the Age of Electricity: An Explanation for the Failure of Portugal to Industrialize before the Second World War

Abstract: We provide a natural resource explanation for the divergence of the Portuguese economy relative to other European countries before the Second World War. First, we demonstrate that a lack of domestic resources meant that Portugal experienced limited and unbalanced growth during the age of steam. Imports of coal were prohibitively expensive for inland areas. Coastal areas industrialized through steam but were constrained by limited demand from the interior. Second, we show that after the First World War, when other coal-poor countries turned to hydro-power, Portugal relied on coal-based thermal-power, creating a vicious circle of high energy prices and labor-intensive industrialization.