The Hobbesian Bargain: State-Building, Fiscal Capacity, and Preferences for Redistribution in Fragile States (with James D. Long)

What explains citizens’ preferences for redistribution in fragile states? This article examines fiscal capacity in the context of modern state-building in the developing world. Citizens in weak states face numerous barriers articulating redistributive demands to the state and confront non-state actors that provide alternative governance. We argue that as governments struggle to supply their end of a “Hobbesian bargain” by establishing political authority and legitimacy, citizens’ experiences with formal state institutions importantly shapes demands of government. We hypothesize that individuals who perceive the state as the legitimate provider of rule and law and public services are more likely to support redistribution. Further, individuals who gain greater political inclusion in the new regime demonstrate less willingness for policy action, while forms of quasi-voluntary compliance and individuals’ risk aversion mediate preferences. We test hypotheses using nation-wide novel survey data from Afghanistan, which provides a critical juncture to leverage variation in institutional quality and citizens’ perceptions of the state. Tests and robustness checks provide supportive evidence for hypotheses, and contributions to theory and policy domains focused on the institutional components of state-building and economic development.

Why do some national education systems consolidate as centralized, state-led institutions while others consolidate as decentralized institutions with dispersed political authority? This article examines the historical origins of national education systems and theorizes that the territorial distribution of infrastructural power matters more for educational development than overall levels of state capacity (e.g. military size or tax collection). Rather, the central state’s ability to collect and disseminate detailed population data throughout the national territory is an important predictor of education centralization. Ruling elites value centrally-governed mass education as a means to legitimate their authority, but face constraints in pursuit of its development. The even distribution of informational capacity and complementary infrastructure, such as transit and communication routes, allows elites to impose new institutions further and further from the political center. The more enumerative capabilities the central state exert throughout its territory, the more likely it is to monopolize education at the national level over time. To test the eects of state infrastructural power, this paper introduces a composite measure of centralized education based on an original historical dataset of educational reforms in forty-five countries from 1800 to 1970. Controlling for potential confounders such as regime type and economic modernization, and holding state capacity constant, the results provide strong supportive evidence of the relationship between education centralization and the distribution of infrastructural power—specifically, the administration of comprehensive national censuses.


State Formation, Elite Ideas, and the Making of Education Leviathans since the 19th Century (Dissertation)

What explains cross-national variation in the development of national education regimes? This project examines the timing and centralization of national education systems—e.g. national laws and institutions governing primary and lower-secondary education—during early periods of state-building. For this project, I constructed an original data set of educational laws and institutions from 1800-1970 in forty-six countries in Europe, North America, Latin America, and Asia. This research employs both comparative-historical analysis of Argentina and Chile and econometric methods to show how spatial dimensions of state capacity and elite ideology explain patterns of control over public education. This project aims to contribute to scholarship on state-building, political development, and the growing literature on the comparative political economy of education.

Managing Decentralization, Resisting Markets: Teacher Unionism, Partisan Constraints, and Education Reform in Advanced Democracies 

Why do some countries adopt decentralizing and market-oriented public sector reforms to a greater degree than others? A robust body of literature on the welfare state contends that electoral and fiscal constraints force both center-left and center-right governments to enact major public sector reforms. However, much of this research discounts the role of public sector unionism as an extra-institutional constraint on partisan agendas. In this article, I examine the politics of education reform and argue that teacher unionism plays an important role in the policy process. The autonomy of incumbent governments to adopt contentious reforms is shaped in part on how education unions are organized nationally. The influence of teacher unions on the reform process rests on the cohesion of teacher unionism at the national level, which shapes the bargaining position of unions vis-à-vis incumbent governments. Where union membership is concentrated within a single peak trade association, or not otherwise split between competing organizations that exclusively represent the primary or secondary education sector, the state is less likely to implement a far-reaching education reform agenda. Evidence from Finland and Sweden in the 1980s and 1990s shows that the organizational cohesion of teacher unionism in the former constrained the government’s adoption of reforms. Alternatively, the primary and secondary teachers’ unions in Sweden failed to coordinate on a unified response to the center-right government’s agenda, instead competing for favorable concessions. The cases suggest that partisan theories of school reform should take the role of teacher unions more seriously when examining institutional change and stability in national education.