State history

Kevin Lewis

December 04, 2017

Building a New Imperial State: The Strategic Foundations of Separation of Powers in America
Sean Gailmard
American Political Science Review, November 2017, Pages 668-685


Separation of powers existed in the British Empire of North America long before the U.S. Constitution of 1789, yet little is known about the strategic foundations of this institutional choice. In this article, I argue that separation of powers helps an imperial crown mitigate an agency problem with its colonial governor. Governors may extract more rents from colonial settlers than the imperial crown prefers. This lowers the Crown's rents and inhibits economic development by settlers. Separation of powers within colonies allows settlers to restrain the governor's rent extraction. If returns to settler investment are moderately high, this restraint is necessary for colonial economic development and ultimately benefits the Crown. Historical evidence from the American colonies and the first British Empire is consistent with the model. This article highlights the role of agency problems as a distinct factor in New World institutional development, and in a sovereign's incentives to create liberal institutions.

The Impact of Media Censorship: Evidence from a Field Experiment in China
Yuyu Chen & David Yang
Stanford Working Paper, October 2017


Media censorship is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. We conduct a field experiment in China to examine whether providing access to an uncensored Internet leads citizens to acquire politically sensitive information, and whether they are affected by the information. We track subjects' media consumption, beliefs regarding the media, economic beliefs, political attitudes, and behaviors over 18 months. We find 4 main results: (i) free access alone does not induce subjects to acquire politically sensitive information; (ii) temporary encouragement leads to a persistent increase in acquisition, indicating that demand is not permanently low; (iii) acquisition brings broad, substantial, and persistent changes to knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and intended behaviors; and (iv) social transmission of information is statistically significant but small in magnitude. We calibrate a simple model to show that, due to the low demand for, and moderate social transmission of, uncensored information, China's censorship apparatus may remain robust for a large number of citizens receiving unencouraged access to an uncensored Internet.

Sons and Lovers: Political Stability in China and Europe Before the Great Divergence
Yuhua Wang
Harvard Working Paper, October 2017


A distinguished literature emphasizes the role of premodern Europe's unique institutions - feudalism and representation - in lengthening ruler duration. Chinese emperors, who lacked feudal and representative institutions, however, stayed in power longer than European monarchs. I argue that the different succession arrangements made possible by the greater availability of male heirs in China explains this divergence. In China, polygyny allowed emperors to have multiple male heirs, from whom the emperor chose one as the crown prince. In Europe, the Church's control of royal marriage decreased the number of male heirs and made it difficult for monarchs to pass the throne to a son. The prevalence of hereditary succession in China increased its stability because, by appointing a son as their successor, emperors minimized the risk of being assassinated by their successors and enhanced the elite's loyalty. I substantiate these arguments by examining over 1,000 monarchs in China and Europe before the great divergence.

Women, Demography and Politics: How Lower Fertility Rates Lead to Democracy
Udi Sommer
Columbia University Working Paper, October 2017


Where connections between demography and politics are examined in the literature, it is largely in the context of the effects of male aspects of demography on phenomena such as political violence. This project aims to place the study of demographic variables' influence on politics, particularly on democracy, squarely within the scope of political and social sciences - and - to focus on the effects of woman-related demographics, namely fertility rates. I test the hypothesis that demographic variables - female-related predictors in particular - have an independent effect on political structure. Comparing different countries over time, when fertility rates decline, we observe a growth in democracy. In the theoretical framework developed, it is family structure, and the economic and political status of women that account for this change at the macro and micro levels. Findings based on data for over 140 countries over 3 decades are robust when controlling not only for alternative effects, but also for reverse causality and data limitations.

The Extremist's Advantage in Civil Wars
Barbara Walter
International Security, Fall 2017, Pages 7-39


The number of radical Islamist groups fighting in civil wars in Muslim countries has steadily grown over the last twenty years, with such groups outlasting and outperforming more moderate groups. By 2016, Salafi jihadist groups accounted for most of the militant groups in Syria and half of such groups in Somalia. In Iraq, a third of all militant groups were composed of Salafi jihadists. Many analysts argue that the rise of these groups reflects an increase in radical beliefs in Muslim societies. Under certain conditions, however, rebel leaders have strong incentives to embrace an extreme ideology even if they do not believe the ideas that underlie it. When competition is high, information is poor, and institutional constraints are weak, an extremist ideology can help rebel leaders overcome difficult collective-action, principal-agent, and commitment problems. All three of these conditions have been present in the post-2003 civil wars in the Middle East and Africa, and all help explain the emergence and growth of radical groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida.

Democracy by mistake
Daniel Treisman
NBER Working Paper, October 2017


How does democracy emerge from authoritarian rule? Influential theories contend that incumbents deliberately choose to share or surrender power. They do so to prevent revolution, motivate citizens to fight wars, incentivize governments to provide public goods, outbid elite rivals, or limit factional violence. Examining the history of all democratizations since 1800, I show that such deliberate choice arguments may help explain up to one third of cases. In about two thirds, democratization occurred not because incumbent elites chose it but because, in trying to prevent it, they made mistakes that weakened their hold on power. Common mistakes include: calling elections or starting military conflicts, only to lose them; ignoring popular unrest and being overthrown; initiating limited reforms that get out of hand; and selecting a covert democrat as leader. These mistakes reflect well-known cognitive biases such as overconfidence and the illusion of control.

Locating the government: Capital cities and civil conflict
Alan Potter
Research & Politics, October 2017


The location of the national capital is frequently contentious in domestic politics. Almost 30% of countries house their capitals outside of their largest city and 11 countries have relocated their capitals since 1960. This paper argues that locating the capital outside of the largest urban center may reduce civil conflict by limiting the ability of any single faction to dominate the government. When the government is less afraid of large urban populations in the capital, it is better able to appease multiple factions. Cross-national evidence supports this argument in that locating the capital outside of a major city is associated with a significant reduction in both violent and non-violent civil conflict.

The Death Camp Eldorado: Political and Economic Effects of Mass Violence
Volha Charnysh & Evgeny Finkel
American Political Science Review, November 2017, Pages 801-818


Transfer and redistribution of wealth accompany most violent conflicts throughout the world, yet the local-level political and economic effects of this phenomenon remain unexplored. We address this omission by examining the long-term impact on the surrounding communities of the Nazi death camp Treblinka in Poland, where nearly a million Jews were murdered. The assets of murdered Jews sometimes ended up in the hands of the local population. We are able to identify the enduring impact of these property transfers on local economic and political outcomes because the exact location of Treblinka was exogenous to the characteristics of surrounding communities. We find that communities located closer to the camp experienced a real estate boom but do not exhibit higher levels of economic and social development. These communities also showed higher support for an anti-Semitic party, the League of Polish Families. Our findings speak to an important but overlooked challenge to post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation.

From education to democracy: Evidence from long-run time-varying estimates
Nicholas Apergis & James Payne
International Review of Economics, December 2017, Pages 313-325


This study reinvestigates the hypothesis that education is expected to have a positive and statistically significant effect on democracy for a panel of 169 countries over the period 1990-2014. Unlike previous studies, we employ the time-varying cointegration approach of Bierens and Martins (Econom Theory 26:1453-1490, 2010) to show the time-varying coefficient associated with education has a positive impact on democracy. Further examination of the countries by income classification reveals that education has a positive and increasing impact on democracy with the greatest impact in low-income countries.

Ownership matters: Natural resources property rights and social conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa
Tim Wegenast & Gerald Schneider
Political Geography, November 2017, Pages 110-122


Empirical tests of the "resource curse" thesis have provided inconclusive evidence for the claim that natural resource abundance increases the risk of social conflict. The present article argues, based on a novel political economy framework and a new data set, that it is important to analyze how states regulate the access to their natural resources to understand the interrelationship between resources and public resistance against resource extraction arrangements. We claim that international rather than state resource ownership fosters the regional protest potential and overshadows the efficiency gains that foreign investment might create. Especially the siphoning of resource rents to international owners instigates resentment among the local population. Distinguishing between private, public, domestic and international ownership arrangements, we assess the effects of natural resources control rights regimes on state repression using new GIS-based data on diamond and gold mines as well as oil and gas fields in Sub-Sahara Africa. Our multilevel analysis shows that repression as an answer to societal dissent is particularly likely in grids hosting international oil companies. Furthermore, we find that international oil firms further state repression especially under insecure property rights.

Concessions or Crackdown: How Regime Stability Shapes Democratic Responses to Hostage taking Terrorism
Aslihan Saygili
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming


A prominent view in the terrorism literature is that democracies make soft targets for terrorists due to their citizenry's low tolerance for civilian casualties. This study tests this claim in the context of hostage taking terrorism, which is a unique form of violence that coerces the target state into negotiating over its citizens' lives under public scrutiny. I argue that democratic accountability generates softer responses to hostage crises only in mature democracies, where leaders' concern over being held accountable for the human costs of a no-concessions policy outweighs the reputational costs of conceding to terrorists' demands. Using data on government responses to hostage incidents from 1978 to 2005, I find that regime type becomes a significant predictor of target concessions only at higher levels of regime stability. To test the accountability mechanism proposed by theory, I examine the effect of electoral cycles on target response; as expected, while nearing elections soften democratic responses to hostage crises, in general their positive effect on the likelihood of concessions is stronger in consolidated democracies.

The Arsenal of Insurrection: Explaining Rising Support for Rebels
Ryan Grauer & Dominic Tierney
Security Studies, forthcoming


Recent scholarship has established several key dynamics in civil wars: since the nineteenth century, rebel victories have increased in likelihood; external support is one of the most significant predictors of rebel victory; and rebel groups have become increasingly likely to receive foreign backing. What is missing is an explanation of why patterns of third-party aid to rebels changed over time. Data on foreign assistance to rebels over the last two centuries reveals the odds of groups receiving aid increased from about one in five to about four in five. The nature of the patron also altered significantly, from great powers, to lesser states, and then nonstate actors. We explain these patterns using three variables: (1) great-power competition; (2) norms of national self-determination; and (3) globalization. This paper explores this theory with a case study of aid to rebel groups in Algeria since the 1830s.

Food price volatilities and civilian victimization in Africa
Babak Rezaeedaryakenari, Steven Landis & Cameron Thies
Conflict Management and Peace Science, forthcoming


This paper studies the impact of food insecurity on civilian-rebel interactions. We argue that food price volatilities affect the incentives of insurgent groups and their subsequent treatment of civilians. The hypotheses developed in this study are empirically evaluated across a battery of statistical models using monthly data from a sample of 112 first administrative districts in sub-Saharan Africa. The results show that increases in food insecurity substantially raise the likelihood of insurgent groups committing violence against civilians and that districts with a higher proportion of agricultural land are at greatest risk of civilian victimization by rebel groups during these episodes of food insecurity. The implications of this analysis suggest that the human impact of food insecurity does not simply relate to nutrition and questions of governance. Food price volatilities also incentivize the use of violence against civilians by non-state actors, which is a pertinent concern of human rights organizations and policymakers.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.