State Formation, Infrastructural Power, and the Centralization of Mass Education in Europe and the Americas, 1800 to 1970

Why do some states develop centralized systems of mass education while others develop education systems in which the central government has limited regulatory control? 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., coercive or fiscal capacity). The central state’s ability to collect and disseminate detailed population data is an important predictor of education centralization. Ruling elites value centrally-governed mass education as a means to legitimate their authority, but face informational constraints in pursuit of its development. As informational capacity is more evenly distributed throughout the national territory, the more likely that rulers will centralize control over mass education. To test the effects 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.

Subnational State Capacity and Trust in Governmental Responses to COVID-19: Survey Evidence From Mexico (with Thomas Vargas)

Do citizen perceptions of local state capacity shape evaluations of the national government in a crisis and public compliance with emergency rules? Recent social scientific research on COVID-19 draws on work conducted in rich countries to suggest a number of factors driving government actions, societal behavior, and health outcomes in response to the pandemic. In Latin America, where political parties are weak and poverty more rampant, other more basic factors likely matter more. Perhaps most importantly, in countries across the region state capacity tends to be weaker or more fragmented than in rich countries. We argue that subjective perceptions of state capacity, based on how citizens view the effectiveness of local services, strongly shape how they evaluate the national government’s response to COVID-19. We leverage an online survey across two Mexican states, including an embedded framing experiment, to support this argument. Our finding suggest that governments that need to rapidly build public confidence in policy responses when they need it the most—during the onset of a major crisis—should be concerned about the persistence of pockets of weak state capacity at the local level and its effects on citizens’ view of the national government.

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.

%d bloggers like this: