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For most of their histories, Costa Rica and Honduras were primarily agricultural societies with little economic diversification. However, around 1990, after the implementation of Washington Consensus reforms, the economies of both nations began to diverge. Costa Rica’s economy rapidly expanded for the following 30 years, while Honduras remained stagnant. Through a New Institutional Economics approach, I argue that institutional differences between Costa Rica and Honduras are responsible for the impressive economic growth Costa Rica has been able to achieve in the past few decades. Specifically, early political developments in Costa Rica have deeply imbedded relatively egalitarian values into the population, helping shape formal and informal inclusive political institutions. Meanwhile, Honduras experienced the development of extractive political institutions, as political and economic power was heavily concentrated in the hands of a select few. These political institutions were crucial during the implementation stages of Washington Consensus reforms, as strong and inclusive political institutions attracted Foreign Direct Investment that helped propel the Costa Rican economy and materialize its position as an outlier in the region. In contrast, lack of institutional guarantees discouraged foreign investors from investing money into the Honduran economy. Through a deep dive into the political histories of both nations, from European discovery to modernity, I conclude that the political institutions of these Central American nations have determined their economic growth paths.
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