How ancient is your state?

When, pray tell, does nation building succeed? Bockstette, Chanda, and Putterman suggest an answer:

A longer history of statehood might prove favorable to economic development…for several reasons. There may be learning by doing in the way of public administration…The operation of a state may support the development of attitudes consistent with bureaucratic discipline and hierarchical control…

The authors provide a measure of the antiquity of a state; under their measure China comes in first place and Zambia comes in last. It turns out that state antiquity matters in cross-sectional growth equations:

…suppose that Mauritania, the country which recorded the second lowest value for [state antiquity] instead had the [state antiquity value] for China…Based on the estimated coefficient…this would mean that Mauritania would have recorded an annual increase of 1.9 percent in its growth rate. Given that Mauritania’s average growth rate during the 35-year period was nearly zero and China’s was 3.8 percent, differences in [state antiquity] can, by these calculations, explain half the difference in growth rates between the two countries.

I do have some caveats. Who ever knows what causes what in these macro equations? Furthermore state antiquity explains growth rates but not income levels. This would suggest that state antiquity matters more today than ever before, a possible but puzzling relationship. That being said, state antiquity does partially explain a “social infrastructure” variable, which in turn helps explain income levels.

If it were up to me: I would rather see economists address the important questions with imperfect tools, rather than focus on problems where their methods are immune to internal criticism.

By the way, I can’t find Iraq on their (hard to read) scatterplots, but I understand the modern version of the nation as starting only under British imperialism.


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