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Canals and Orchards: The Impact of Transport Network Access on Agricultural Productivity in Nineteenth-Century Bangkok

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 December 2020

Thanyaporn Chankrajang
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University, Phayathai Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330 Thailand. E-mail: Thanyaporn.C@
Jessica Vechbanyongratana
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University, Phayathai Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330 Thailand. E-mail:


We assess the impact of access to Bangkok’s nineteenth-century canal network on orchard productivity using a new dataset constructed from 1880s orchard land deeds. We find that properties located adjacent to canals, which were built for purposes exogenous to orchard production, had significantly higher labor productivity than those located inland. Gaining direct access to canals led to productivity improvements through better access to markets, which in turn enhanced cultivators’ welfare. We conclude, based on a method developed by Oster (2019), that unobserved selection bias is negligible, allowing for the positive impact of canal access to be interpreted as causal.

© The Economic History Association 2020

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The Chulalongkorn Economics Research Center and Thailand Research Fund project number RDG61H0004, under the direction of Winai Phongsiphian, provided financial support for the primary data collection. We are grateful to Chaiwat Chaiprasert, curator of the Department of Lands Museum, for granting access to the museum’s document collection. We thank Pannee Cheewinsiriwat, Chulalongkorn University Department of Geography, and the Information and Communication Technology Center, Office of the Permanent Secretary, and Ministry of Transport for providing access to the Thai GIS files. We thank Bishnupriya Gupta, Robert Allen, and Jan Luiten van Zanden, as well as participants at the 2018 World Economic History Congress, 2018 CEPR-NYUAD Economic Divergence and Convergence in History Workshop, 2017 Nanyang Technological University-Chulalongkorn University-Thammasat University Trilateral Workshop, the 2016 Asian Historical Economic Conference, and the Academia Sinica economics seminar for many helpful comments. Finally, we acknowledge Papungkorn Kitcharoenkarnkul, Chayapol Klumplee, Kawita Niwatananun, Phacharaphorn Phanomwan, Patitta Sriboontham, Thitinun Srisontiyakul, and Siriwan Thitirungrojkul for providing excellent research assistance and data entry support.


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