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The Paradox of Civilization: Pre-Institutional Sources of Security and Prosperity

Listed author(s):
  • Ernesto Dal Bó
  • Pablo Hernández
  • Sebastián Mazzuca

The rise of civilizations involved the dual emergence of economies that could produce surplus (“prosperity”) and states that could protect surplus (“security”). But the joint achievement of security and prosperity had to escape a paradox: prosperity attracts predation, and higher insecurity discourages the investments that create prosperity. We study the trade-offs facing a proto-state on its path to civilization through a formal model informed by the anthropological and historical literatures on the origin of civilizations. We emphasize pre-institutional forces, such as physical aspects of the geographical environment, that shape productive and defense capabilities. The solution of the civilizational paradox relies on high defense capabilities, natural or manmade. We show that higher initial productivity and investments that yield prosperity exacerbate conflict when defense capability is fixed, but may allow for security and prosperity when defense capability is endogenous. Some economic shocks and military innovations deliver security and prosperity while others force societies back into a trap of conflict and stagnation. We illustrate the model by analyzing the rise of civilization in Sumeria and Egypt, the first two historical cases, and the civilizational collapse at the end of the Bronze Age.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 21829.

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Date of creation: Dec 2015
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21829
Note: DEV POL
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  1. Mayshary, Joram & Moav, Omer & Neeman, Zvika & Pascali, Luigi, 2015. "Cereals Appropriability and Hierarchy," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 238, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
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  4. Mayshar, Joram & Moav, Omer & Neeman, Zvika, 2013. "Geography, Transparency and Institutions," CEPR Discussion Papers 9625, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Allen, Robert C., 1997. "Agriculture and the Origins of the State in Ancient Egypt," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 34(2), pages 135-154, April.
  6. Durham, Yvonne & Hirshleifer, Jack & Smith, Vernon L., 2008. "The Paradox of Power," Handbook of Experimental Economics Results, Elsevier.
  7. Oeindrila Dube & Juan F. Vargas, 2006. "Resource Curse in Reverse: The Coffee Crisis and Armed Conflict in Colombia," Royal Holloway, University of London: Discussion Papers in Economics 06/05, Department of Economics, Royal Holloway University of London, revised Dec 2006.
  8. Acemoglu, Daron & Johnson, Simon & Robinson, James A., 2005. "Institutions as a Fundamental Cause of Long-Run Growth," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 6, pages 385-472 Elsevier.
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