C. Hoyt Bleakley photo

Portage and Path Dependence

Publication Abstract

Bleakley, C. Hoyt, and Jeffrey Lin. 2012. "Portage and Path Dependence." Quarterly Journal of Economics, 127(2): 587-644.

We examine portage sites in the U.S. South, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest, including those on the fall line, a geomorphological feature in the southeastern U.S. marking the final rapids on rivers before the ocean. Historically, waterborne transport of goods required portage around the falls at these points, while some falls provided water power during early industrialization. These factors attracted commerce and manufacturing. Although these original advantages have long since been made obsolete, we document the continuing importance of these portage sites over time. We interpret these results as path dependence and contrast explanations based on sunk costs interacting with decreasing versus increasing returns to scale.

10.1093/qje/qjs011

PMCID: PMC3738199. (Pub Med Central)

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