Monday, 28 November 2011

more war, better states...

Good things come to those who wait... and Nicola's and my paper on state capacity and war has certainly taken a bit of time. The idea? In many historical accounts of the rise of states in Europe, war does the heavy lifting: You fight more, hence you invest more in centralization, bureaucratization, tax raising, etc. There are two problems with this: First, warfare is not exactly an early modern European exclusive. Hunter-gatherer societies have lots of violent death; there are no strong hunter-gatherer states. Second, war means that you can disappear as an independent power, as did Poland, Burgundy, and a long string of independent states and statelets in early modern Europe.

Nicola and I decided to put things together in a single model that can explain 1. divergence between powers 2. a rise in state capacity as the cost of warfare escalates. The abstract is:
In 1500, Europe was composed of hundreds of statelets and principalities, with weak central authority, no monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, and multiple, overlapping levels of jurisdiction. By 1800, Europe had consolidated into a handful of powerful, centralized nation states. We build a model that simultaneously explains both the emergence of capable states and growing divergence between European powers. In our model, the impact of war on the European state system depends on: i) the importance of money for determining the war outcome (which stands for the cost of war), and ii) a country's initial level of domestic political fragmentation. We emphasize the role of the "Military Revolution", which raised the cost of war. Initially, this caused more internally cohesive states to invest more in state capacity, while other (more divided) states rationally dropped out of the competition. This mechanism leads to both increasing divergence between European states, and greater average investments in state building on the continent overall.

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