Proposal preview

The Economic Causes and Consequences of the Size of States


Philip Hoffman (Cal Tech). “State Size and the Evolution of Fiscal Capacity in Europe”

Mark Koyama (George Mason University), Chiaki Moriguchi (Hitotsubashi University), and Tuan-Hwee Sng (National University of Singapore). “Geopolitics and Asia’s Little Divergence: State Building in China and Japan After 1850”

Jared Rubin (Chapman University) and Debin Ma (London School of Economics). “Strong States and Weak Administrative Capacity”

Kivanc Karaman and Secil Yildirim-Karaman (Bogazici University) “Long Term Patterns in Fiscal Capacity”

Yasin Arslantaş (LSE and Anadolu University) “State Capacity and the Practice of Confiscation in the Ottoman Empire in the long-18th Century”

Bin Wong (UCLA) “The Relevance of European-based Measures of State Capacity to other World Regions before and after 1850: a view from Chinese history in global perspective”


Economists and economic historians have recently become interested in the role that fiscal and legal capacity – the power to tax and provide law – played in the “rise of the West”. This argument in its recent form can be traced to Charles Tilly (1975, 1990), who argues that the need for mutual defense and war created incentives for governments to invest in revenue generation; Tilly’s (1975, p. 42) oft-cited statement is “War made the state, and the state made war.” Besley and Persson (2009, 2010) and Acemoglu (2005) extend Tilly’s argument, noting that investments in fiscal capacity arise endogenously because of common interests in the provision of public goods. Other important works in this literature, especially those of Dincecco (2009) and Karaman and Pamuk (2013), stress the role that representative institutions played in generating fiscal capacity through increased taxation and lower sovereign credit risk.

A related literature attempting to explain the rise of the West focuses on the fact that Europe was relatively fractured into small states that were frequently at war, whereas much of the rest of the world was dominated by large empires that faced less political competition. An important recent contribution to this literature, put forward by Philip Hoffman (2015) in his book Why Did Europe Conquer the World?, argues that competition between European rulers only led to massive improvements in military technology when combined with gunpowder, which came to Europe in the late medieval period. Numerous reasons have been given for the relative fractionalization of Europe, including the presence of outside threats (Alesina and Spolaore 2005; Ko, Koyama, and Sng 2015), trade patterns (Friedman 1977; Alesina and Spolaore 1997), and geography (Diamond 1997).

These two literatures are clearly complementary, and there are many open questions waiting to be answered using these recent insights. These include, but are hardly limited to, why was Europe so fractionalized following the fall of the Roman Empire, and why was the remainder of Eurasia so frequently ruled by empire? Did fiscal, state, or administrative capacity play any role in determining the size of states in Eurasia? What role did state fractionalization – or lack thereof – play in generating the fiscal, state, and administrative capacity so important to the rise of modern states? And, on the contrary, what role did fiscal, state, and administrative capacity play in determining the size of states?

This session includes papers which aim to address precisely such questions. It consists of three papers listed above. All three presenters have agreed to participate.


  • Jared Rubin, Chapman University,, USA

Session members

  • Philip Hoffman, Cal Tech,
  • Mark Koyama, George Mason University,
  • Chiaki Moriguchi, Hitotsubashi University,
  • Jared Rubin, Chapman University,
  • Yasin Arslantaş, LSE and Anadolu University,
  • Bin Wong, UCLA,

Proposed discussant(s)

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