Civilized Society

Kevin Lewis

November 28, 2022

Homicide and State History
John Gerring & Carl Henrik Knutsen
American Sociological Review, forthcoming 


We argue that cross-national variability in homicide rates is strongly influenced by state history. Populations living within a state are habituated, over time, to settling conflicts through regularized, institutional channels rather than personal violence. Because these are gradual and long-term processes, present-day countries composed of citizens whose ancestors experienced a degree of "state-ness" in previous centuries should experience fewer homicides today. To test this proposition, we adopt an ancestry-adjusted measure of state history that extends back to 0 CE. Cross-country analyses show a sizeable and robust relationship between this index and lower homicide rates. The result holds when using various measures of state history and homicide rates, sets of controls, samples, and estimators. We also find indicative evidence that state history relates to present levels of other forms of personal violence. Tests of plausible mechanisms suggest state history is linked to homicide rates via the law-abidingness of citizens. We find less support for alternative channels such as economic development or current state capacity.

Individualization and the decline of homicide: England 1250-1750
Mark Cooney & Jeffery Patterson
Journal of Criminal Justice, forthcoming 


A key issue in criminology is to account for variation in rates of violence across time and place. An important variable largely neglected in the literature is individualism. Building on theoretical ideas proposed by Durkheim, Black, and Baumgartner, we illustrate the role of increased individualism with a case study: the decline of homicide in England, 1250-1750. The qualitative historical materials we present reveal the growth of more individualized conflicts evident in less third-party partisan intervention and a reduced concern with honor. More individualized conflicts were, in turn, a product of a more individualized society, one characterized by increased social distance and mobility. As conflicts individualized they became less lethal, resulting in declining aggregate rates of homicide. Although the case study is historical, our argument has implications for understanding contemporary criminal violence.

Regulation and state capacity
Arjun Chowdhury
Rationality and Society, November 2022, Pages 446-468 


While one might expect states with low capacity to regulate less than states with high capacity, this is not supported by evidence, leaving open the possibility of rent-seeking. I use the example of the regulation of witchcraft in parts of Africa to informally model the conditions under which states with low capacity still come to promulgate a range of regulations even in the absence of rent-seeking interests. The model suggests that regulation can be a substitute for basic state functions like policing. I identify one normatively troubling aspect of this; the conditions under which such regulation might still improve state capacity over time, which qualifies claims made about rent-seeking and neo-patrimonialism; the model's implications for contemporary state formation; and the parallels between the regulation of witchcraft and the regulation of offensive speech.

The Missing Middle Managers: Labor Costs, Firm Structure, and Development
Jonas Hjort, Hannes Malmberg & Todd Schoellman
NBER Working Paper, October 2022


This paper shows that large, multi-establishment business enterprises face a high cost of middle management in poor countries and that this cost inhibits the growth of the modern sector. We provide new empirical evidence using a database covering compensation for 300,000 middle managers working at modern firms in 146 countries. We estimate that the elasticity of real management costs with respect to real GDP per worker is 0.1. We quantify the importance of this finding using a calibrated appropriate technology model where firms choose whether to adopt the management-intensive modern business structure. Lower management costs in developing countries would increase the revenue share of the modern sector by 10-20 percentage points.

(Almost) 200 Years of News-Based Economic Sentiment
Jules van Binsbergen et al.
University of Pennsylvania Working Paper, October 2022 


Using the full text of 200 million pages of 13,000 US local newspapers and state-of-the-art machine learning methods, we construct a novel 170-year-long time series measure of economic sentiment at the country and state level, which expands the existing measures in both the time series (by over a century) and the cross section. We show that our measure predicts economic fundamentals such as GDP (both nationally and locally), consumption, and employment growth, even after controlling for commonly-used predictors. Our measure is distinct from the information in expert forecasts, and leads its consensus value. We use the text to isolate information about current and future events and show that it is the latter that drives our predictability results.

Rivalry and Empire: How Competition among European States Shaped Imperialism
Jan Vogler
Journal of Historical Political Economy, Summer 2022, Pages 189-234 


For centuries, European history was characterized by a fundamental asymmetry. While interpolity relations on the continent were often relatively balanced - without any dominant power being able to permanently establish a hierarchical relationship to the other major powers - the relations between European states and polities in other world regions were generally hierarchical and exploitative, as manifested in colonialism and imperialism. How can we explain this difference? I argue that the symmetrical character of relationships among major European powers, particularly in the form of sustained and intense military and economic competition, was partly constitutive of the hierarchical relationships between those same powers and other parts of the world. Specifically, three mechanisms connect sustained rivalries to imperialism: (1) political elites' desire to improve their relative status/prestige through territorial gains, (2) pressure from public budget deficits that incentivized colonial exploitation, and (3) the creation of powerful interest groups in the form of navies and armies that favored imperialism. Moreover, when territorial conflict over colonies escalated, imperial expansion could ultimately feed back into interpolity competition in Europe. I demonstrate these dynamics through systematic analyses of the rivalries between England and France (1689-1815) and between Imperial Germany and Great Britain (1871/1897-1918).

Historical social contracts and their legacy: A disaggregated analysis of the medieval republics
Paolo Buonanno et al.
Journal of Economic Growth, December 2022, Pages 485-526 


We study the comparative political economy within the territories ruled by the medieval republics in Northern Italy. Building on the historical evidence, we conceptualize the emergence of more inclusive vs. extractive institutions in these sovereign polities as driven by the interests of local rulers and their need to build state capacity. We provide novel insights on the role of geography and historical contingencies in the development of public governance, individual attitudes, and social-inclusion, which mutually supported each other and persisted over time. We measure the origin, territorial evolution, and disappearance of all the sovereign polities that ruled over the Italian peninsula during the period of 1000-1800 AD. The empirical analysis connects contemporary socio-economic outcomes across spatially disaggregated northern Italian localities, at the municipality level, to local political history. We distinguish between so-called "communal" and "maritime republics" and show that the intensity and stability of exposure to the different types of republican rule in pre-industrial times continues to shape local public good provision and individual fiscal compliance, and has left a tangible imprint on today's population diversity.

Why Britain? The Right Place (in the Technology Space) at the Right Time
Carl Hallmann, Walker Hanlon & Lukas Rosenberger
Northwestern University Working Paper, July 2022


Why did Britain attain economic leadership during the Industrial Revolution? We argue that Britain possessed an important but underappreciated innovation advantage: British inventors worked in technologies that were more central within the innovation network. We offer a new approach for measuring the innovation network using patent data from Britain and France in the 18th and early 19th century. We show that the network influenced innovation outcomes and then demonstrate that British inventors worked in more central technologies within the innovation network than inventors from France. Then, drawing on recently-developed theoretical tools, we quantify the implications for technology growth rates in Britain compared to France. Our results indicate that the shape of the innovation network, and the location of British inventors within it, can help explain the more rapid technological growth in Britain during the Industrial Revolution.

Legacies of Vietnam's imperial examinations, 1075-1919: More investment in education and better educational outcomes
Tien Manh Vu & Hiroyuki Yamada
Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming 


This study measures the impact of the number of people who passed the Vietnamese imperial examinations (1075-1919) on the present-day quantity and quality of education in their home districts. Our analyses at the district and individual levels are based mainly on the data of successful imperial test takers, the 2009 population census, and 2009 National Entrance Exams to University test scores. We find a persistent legacy in educational attainment outcomes. Although there may be multiple channels that explain the long-term historical effects, a tradition of human capital investment and cultural elements are among the most important factors.

Surname distance and technology diffusion: The case of the adoption of maize in late imperial China
Ying Bai & James Kai-sing Kung
Journal of Economic Growth, December 2022, Pages 569-607 


Like genetic distance, surname distance provides a measure of potential differences in population characteristics (e.g., biological, cultural, and institutional). We construct a unique measure of surname distance for the ethnic Han population based on the distribution of Chinese surnames for the period 960-1368AD to examine its impact on the diffusion of technology - specifically maize adoption - in late imperial China. Our analysis finds that a one standard deviation increase in the surname distance between a pair of prefectures lowers the probability of technology diffusion by approximately 7.3 percent during the 50-year period 1650-1700 and 7.0 percent during the 100-year period 1650-1750. However, the effect becomes less over longer periods, presumably because the once-novel technology diffused thoroughly over time. As a check of robustness, we further confirm that surname distance also significantly affected the diffusion of other types of technology such as those associated with the Industrial Revolution.

An Imperial Accident: Property Rights in the Philippines under U.S. Rule, 1902-1939
Leticia Arroyo Abad & Noel Maurer
Journal of Historical Political Economy, Summer 2022, Pages 235-261 


The United States took control of the Philippine Islands in 1898. Four decades later, property rights in the Philippines had become unambiguously less secure: outright squatting jumped from 2.4% of farm area in 1903 to 6.4% by 1939. Most of the remaining landholders claimed to own their lands but could produce no formal title of any sort. This paper asks three questions about this puzzle: (1) Did the American authorities care about property rights? (2) Did the Filipinos care about property rights? (3) Could the incentives have been feasibly changed to improve property rights? We use the historical record to show that American authorities cared greatly about property rights. We demonstrate that Filipinos desired formal titles by constructing a model of the demand for property rights under conditions of land abundance, using that model to generate predictions about applications for title and farm investment, and showing that the data fit the predictions of the model. Finally, we demonstrate that the Philippine government could not have overcome the incentive problem by estimating a lower-bound cost of titling the island, which would have required a politically impossible level of borrowing or taxation. We conclude that the fundamental barrier to formality was the extensive frontier: with much abundant vacant land, the cost of obtaining formal property rights was greater than the benefits from greater security. As a result, informality grew under American rule.

The paradox of "Malthusian urbanization": Urbanization without growth in the Republic of Genoa, 1300-1800
Luigi Oddo & Andrea Zanini
European Review of Economic History, November 2022, Pages 508-534 


This paper investigates the relationships between urbanization and long-term economic growth in the pre-industrial world. To this end, we compiled a novel dataset collecting all currently available data on urban and rural populations in an Italian pre-unification state, the Republic of Genoa. Data show the paradoxical coexistence of high urbanization levels with cyclical Malthusian stagnations. Putting together empirical results and historical evidence, we interpreted this puzzle, highlighting how a high degree of urbanization could be the consequence of widespread poverty, rather than a measure of rising standards of living. To describe this phenomenon, we coined the term "Malthusian urbanization".


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