On the age of borders

Happy New Year!

I am back from research leave. And will be blogging again.

To kick off 2018, check out this map with ages of present-day borders across the world. Across the continent, southern African and coastal West Africa have the oldest borders.

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Just from eyeballing the data, there seems to be a correlation between border age and (elite) political instability. There might also be a strong neighborhood effect of the (regional) average border age. Finally, the average border age on the Continent does not seem to be much higher than in other (post-colonial) regions of the world. This raises important questions about the usefulness of the artificiality of borders as a driver all sorts of outcomes that interest social scientists.

Ultimately, all borders are artificial and a function of technology and state capacity (and may be time). Humans can now blast through or fly over mountains (the Carthaginians trekked them with elephants).

Technology and state capacity have similar effects on the realized political effects of population geography. Think of how poorly United States would score on the Herbst index of favorable vs unfavorable population geography. Now imagine Guatemala with the size and population geography of the United States.

For more on this subject see this new paper by Goemans and Schultz (2017) on the politics of territorial claims in Africa.