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The Political Agenda Effect and State Centralization

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  • Daron Acemoglu
  • James A. Robinson
  • Ragnar Torvik

Abstract

We provide a potential explanation for the absence of, and unwillingness to create, centralized power in the hands of a national state based on the political agenda effect. State centralization induces citizens of different backgrounds, interests, regions or ethnicities to coordinate their demands in the direction of more general-interest public goods, and away from parochial transfers. This political agenda effect raises the effectiveness of citizen demands and induces them to increase their investments in conflict capacity. In the absence of state centralization, citizens do not necessarily band together because of another force, the escalation effect, which refers to the fact that elites from different regions will join forces in response to the citizens doing so. Such escalation might hurt the citizen groups that have already solved their collective action problem (though it will benefit others). Anticipating the interplay of the political agenda and escalation effects, under some parameter configurations, political elites strategically opt for a non-centralized state. We show how the model generates non-monotonic comparative statics in response to the increase in the value or effectiveness of public goods (so that centralized states and public good provision are absent precisely when they are more beneficial for society). We also suggest how the formation of a social democratic party may sometimes induce state centralization (by removing the commitment value of a non-centralized state), and how elites may sometimes prefer partial state centralization.

Suggested Citation

  • Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson & Ragnar Torvik, 2016. "The Political Agenda Effect and State Centralization," NBER Working Papers 22250, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22250
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Saylor, Ryan, 2014. "State Building in Boom Times: Commodities and Coalitions in Latin America and Africa," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199364954.
    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. Nicola Persico & Alessandro Lizzeri, 2001. "The Provision of Public Goods under Alternative Electoral Incentives," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 225-239, March.
    4. Rauch, James E. & Evans, Peter B., 2000. "Bureaucratic structure and bureaucratic performance in less developed countries," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 49-71, January.
    5. Osafo-Kwaako, Philip & Robinson, James A., 2013. "Political centralization in pre-colonial Africa," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(1), pages 6-21.
    6. Daron Acemoglu & Camilo García-Jimeno & James A. Robinson, 2015. "State Capacity and Economic Development: A Network Approach," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(8), pages 2364-2409, August.
    7. Acemoglu, Daron, 2005. "Politics and economics in weak and strong states," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(7), pages 1199-1226, October.
    8. Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent, 1990. "The Development of Irrigation in Provence, 1700-1860: The French Revolution and Economic Growth," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 50(03), pages 615-638, September.
    9. Dincecco, Mark, 2010. "Fragmented authority from Ancien Régime to modernity: a quantitative analysis," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(03), pages 305-328, September.
    10. Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson & Rafael J. Santos, 2013. "The Monopoly Of Violence: Evidence From Colombia," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 11, pages 5-44, January.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D70 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - General
    • H11 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • P48 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - Political Economy; Legal Institutions; Property Rights; Natural Resources; Energy; Environment; Regional Studies

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