Theory Bites

Theory Bites: Can war create strong states today?

By Edvin Arnby Machata 

Historically, war has been a crucial factor in the evolution of today’s developed states. War both increases the direct need for state institutions like a tax authority and an organisation to manage conscription and training of soldiers. It has also weeded out weaker states to be assimilated into stronger ones.

How well this past experience remain true today is however unclear. There are a few important differences with developing state capacity in our time compared to 100, 500 and 1500 years ago (depending on the area). The most important is probably globalisation. If a state would emerge in isolated territories with limited external influence, it could much easier establish and maintain authority, as its main rivals would likely be tribes or states with similar resource levels but with authority centred in different areas. Read More »

Theory Bites: The violent origin of states

By Edvin Arnby Machata

The state is a key player in implementing successful development strategies. The state collects taxes and uses these for public investment like roads and schools, from which society will reap rewards in the form of a growing economy and better way of living. More fundamentally, the state provides the legal framework – courts, laws, and police forces – that shape economic activity in the country. A state that effectively maintains these functions is called a strong state.

Too many developing countries however have weak states, which instead of facilitating economic development are often inhibiting it through corrupt policies that only benefit a small part of the population. In the search for ways to improve the capacity of today’s weak states, it is useful to consider how today’s strong states emerged. Read More »

Theory Bites: Development, Underdevelopment and Dependency

The contemporary common language of development divides the world between developed and underdeveloped countries. This common-sensical classification also guides us to think of the two groups as rich and poor. Or even further, that the developed world, despite its imperfections, is “fine” and its people are happy—they represent the way human society should generally be—while the underdeveloped, for whichever reason, has just fallen behind—its people suffer and are not an example of what we’d like to see for humanity. The assumption is that everyone would prefer to live in a city, drive their car to work, and enjoy air conditioning and washing machines, since humans can and should “achieve” much more than washing their clothes by hand or farming for their own survival.

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