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State capacity and military conflict

  • Nicola Gennaioli
  • Joachim Voth

In 1500, Europe was composed of hundreds of statelets and principalities, with weak central authority, no monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, and overlapping jurisdictions. By 1800, only a handful of powerful, centralized nation states remained. We build a model that explains both the emergence of capable states and growing divergence between European powers. We argue that the impact of war was crucial for state building, and depended on: i) the importance of financial resources for military success, 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 cohesive states to invest in state capacity, while more divided states rationally dropped out of the competition, causing divergence between European states. As the cost of war escalates further, all remaining states engaged in a race to the top, resulting in greater state building.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 1294.

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Date of creation: Nov 2011
Date of revision: Oct 2013
Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:1294
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

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  1. De Long, J. Bradford & Shleifer, Andrei, 1993. "Princes and Merchants: European City Growth before the Industrial Revolution," Scholarly Articles 3451302, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  2. Nico Voigtländer & Joachim Voth, 2008. "The three horsemen of riches: Plague, war and urbanization in early modern Europe," Economics Working Papers 1115, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Jun 2012.
  3. Joachim Voth & Mauricio Drelichman, 2008. "Debt sustainability in historical perspective: The role of fiscal repression," Economics Working Papers 1184, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  4. Karaman, K. Kivanç & Pamuk, Şevket, 2010. "Ottoman State Finances in European Perspective, 1500–1914," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 70(03), pages 593-629, September.
  5. Spolaore, Enrico & Wacziarg, Romain, 2013. "War and Relatedness," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 140, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  6. Landers, John, 2003. "The Field and the Forge: Population, Production, and Power in the Pre-industrial West," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199249169, March.
  7. Mauricio Drelichman & Joachim Voth, 2006. "The sustainable debts of Philip II: A reconstruction of Castile's fiscal position, 1566-1596," Economics Working Papers 1121, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised May 2009.
  8. Greif, Avner, 1993. "Contract Enforceability and Economic Institutions in Early Trade: the Maghribi Traders' Coalition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 525-48, June.
  9. Dincecco, Mark, 2009. "Fiscal Centralization, Limited Government, and Public Revenues in Europe, 1650–1913," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(01), pages 48-103, March.
  10. Brewer, Anthony A, 1988. "Edward West and the Classical Theory of Distribution and Growth," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 55(220), pages 505-15, November.
  11. Gregory Clark, 2007. "Introduction to A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World
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    ," Introductory Chapters, Princeton University Press.
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