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The Origins of State Capacity: Property Rights, Taxation, and Politics
Timothy Besley, Torsten Persson
American Economic Review. Aug 2009, Vol. 99, No. 4: Pages 1218-1244

The Origins of State Capacity: Property Rights, Taxation, and Politics

Timothy Besley, 1

1London School of Economics and CIFAR, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE.

Torsten Persson2

2Institute for International Economic Studies and CIFAR, Stockholm University, S-106 91, Stockholm.

Economists generally assume that the state has sufficient institutional capacity to support markets and levy taxes. This paper develops a framework where “policy choices” in market regulation and taxation are constrained by past investments in legal and fiscal capacity. It studies the economic and political determinants of such investments, demonstrating that legal and fiscal capacity are typically complements. The results show that, among other things, common interest public goods, such as fighting external wars, as well as political stability and inclusive political institutions, are conducive to building state capacity. Some correlations in cross-country data are consistent with the theory. (JEL D72, E62, H11, H20, P14)