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Bounded Leviathan: or why North and Weingast are only right on the right half

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  • Irigoin, Maria Alejandra
  • Grafe, Regina

Abstract

The great merit of North’s and Weingast’s insight into the importance of a ruler’s credible commitment to protecting property rights is that it is both parsimonious and it lends itself beautifully to generalizations. It has e.g. inspired the economic literature on the importance of legal origins” (LaPorta et al., 1998, 2008), which seemed to vindicate the notion that post-Glorious Revolution English institutions were particularly conducive to economic growth. More recently economists have acknowledged that growth in fact depends on state capacity. This encompasses not only investor protection (legal capacity) but also the ability of the state to finance itself, fiscal capacity. (Besley and Persson, 2009, 2010) show that the protection of private property rights and that of public property rights to taxation are linked and most likely co-evolutionary. However, the precise relation between the two is anything but clear. This paper argues that North’s and Weingast’s models one-sided focus on state coercion that threatened subject’ property rights has obscured the relation between coercion used in revenue collection and total revenue role of fiscal capacity. We suggest a very simple model to show that this relationship between state fiscal capacity and legal capacity is not linear, especially in the phase of nation state building. Before 1800 states faced one of two very different central challenges. 1) States that already exhibited high levels of coercion had to try to keep in check the ruler’s potential for predation as North and Weingast argued. 2) States that used very low levels of coercion faced a coordination problem instead of a predation issue. The case of Spain provides empirical evidence for the existence of states where an increase in coercion would have improved fiscal capacity, but high levels of legal capacity paradoxically prevented the ruler from adopting this path. Finally, we use financial market developments to show the serious welfare implications that resulted from such a lack of coordination and integration.

Suggested Citation

  • Irigoin, Maria Alejandra & Grafe, Regina, 2012. "Bounded Leviathan: or why North and Weingast are only right on the right half," Economic History Working Papers 44492, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:44492
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Regina Grafe & Alejandra Irigoin, 2012. "A stakeholder empire: the political economy of Spanish imperial rule in America," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 65(2), pages 609-651, May.
    2. Timothy Besley & Torsten Persson, 2009. "The Origins of State Capacity: Property Rights, Taxation, and Politics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1218-1244, September.
    3. Mauricio Drelichman & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2015. "Risk sharing with the monarch: contingent debt and excusable defaults in the age of Philip II, 1556–1598," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 9(1), pages 49-75, January.
    4. Grafe, Regina & Irigoin, Maria Alejandra, 2006. "The Spanish Empire and its legacy: fiscal redistribution and political conflict in colonial and post-colonial Spanish America," Journal of Global History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(02), pages 241-267, July.
    5. Drelichman, Mauricio & Voth, Hans-Joachim, 2011. "Funding Empire: Risk, Diversification, and the Underwriting of Early Modern Sovereign Loans," Economics working papers mauricio_drelichman-2011-, Vancouver School of Economics, revised 06 Jul 2011.
    6. Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 1998. "Law and Finance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(6), pages 1113-1155, December.
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    8. Temin, Peter & Voth, Hans-Joachim, 2005. "Credit rationing and crowding out during the industrial revolution: evidence from Hoare's Bank, 1702-1862," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 42(3), pages 325-348, July.
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    JEL classification:

    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N20 - Economic History - - Financial Markets and Institutions - - - General, International, or Comparative

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