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The Long-Term Persistence of State Capacity and its Origins in the British Empire, Latin America, Korea, and Taiwan

  • Advisor(s): Geddes, Barbara
  • Rogowski, Ronald
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the origins and persistence of state capacity in three regions: the former colonies of the British Empire, the former Japanese colonies of Korea and Taiwan, and Latin America. In all three regions, I find that countries differ significantly in state capacity, and that these differences are highly persistent. In the cases of the former British colonies, Korea, and Taiwan, I find that differences in state capacity were already well-established during the last few decades of colonial rule by Britain and Japan, respectively, in the mid-20th century. In the case of Latin America, I find that differences in state capacity were also highly apparent in the independent Latin American countries by the early 20th century, and that they have persisted up to the present day. This project shows the persistence of state capacity across the 20th century in these three regions and also suggests reasons for the origins of these differences in state capacity.

First, I find that measures of state capacity in 38 former colonies of the British Empire at the time of independence strongly predict modern-day levels of GDP and HDI in the independent countries. Using three measures of colonial-state capacity – taxes collected per capita, the size of the colonial police force per capita, and extent of the British legal system – I find that all three variables strongly predict modern-day per capita income as well as educational and health indicators, after controlling for initial conditions, as well as geographical and other precolonial variables. The analysis also suggests that the reasons that the British established colonies with greater state capacity in some territories but not in others do not appear to be related to natural or geographical advantages that would predict modern-day economic performance, or even to how much economic potential they thought the territory might have. The British were more likely to establish an intense colonial administration where it was inexpensive to do so. In particular, it was less costly when there was little indigenous resistance to British colonization, and where there were no native polities through which they could rule indirectly.

Next, I show how the state capacity developed under colonial rule in four Asian countries (Taiwan, South Korea, India, and Singapore), under two different colonial rulers (Japan and Britain), was maintained and affected policy-making and implementation in the first decade after independence. This chapter investigates the mechanisms through which state capacity developed under colonial rulers was maintained or undermined during the first decade after independence in South Korea, Taiwan, India, and Singapore. All of these countries maintained their colonial civil service after independence, but the penetration of the civil service to local levels of government was much higher in South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore than in India. South Korea, Taiwan, and India also had more well-qualified locals to replace departing British officials. Finally, the professionalism of the civil service in India was significantly undermined by patronage and the reservation system for certain ethnic and caste groups.

Finally, I show that state capacity established after independence also strongly affected development outcomes in Latin America, the only large region in the developing world where most states were already independent by the early 20th century. Latin American states today show considerable variation in GDP and HDI levels. This chapter demonstrates that this variation can likewise be traced to a significant divergence in the levels of state capacity achieved by these states in the early 20th century. By the early 20th century, some Latin American states had achieved more state capacity than others, but significant investment in mass welfare of citizens had not yet occurred. Yet state capacity in early 20th-century Latin America is a strong determinant of levels of health and education in the present day. In addition, there is no relationship between the years that a state was ruled by a democratic or leftist regime, and its modern-day economic development, or its modern-day levels of health and education.

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