Commodity Booms, Political Coalitions, and State Building in Latin America and Africa

Saylor, Ryan Rutgers, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Waldner, David, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Most studies of post-colonial political development focus on the reasons why states in the developing world typically have not generated high levels of state capacity akin to those found in Europe. This wrongly implies relative uniformity in outcomes. In fact, there is substantial cross-regional variation in levels of state capacity throughout the post-colonial world. For instance, the modal Latin American state has been able to generate some significant institutional and penetrative power, indicative of middling levels of state capacity. In contrast, most African states have failed to accomplish even the most modest state building tasks, something reflected by their extraordinarily low levels of state capacity. Specifying the sources of post-colonial state capacity is necessary to better understand the origins of these stark cross-regional differences. Some contend postcolonial state capacity is a consequence of structural economic characteristics, like the attributes of leading export sectors. Others argue bellicist pressures compel particular post-colonial state building trajectories. Both perspectives explain state building processes via demand-based causal propositions, surmising that the requisites of the export economy or confronting bellicose neighbors determine outcomes. This undervalues the role political coalitions play on the supply-side of the state building equation. This dissertation articulates two causal sequences linking commodity booms to the growth of state capacity to refine existing knowledge. First, states frequently bolster their capacity when supplying public goods to export producers aiming to expand production. If and how states respond to such public goods demands depends on the country's ruling political coalition. Second, commodity booms often disturb the balance of power, which can compel coalition members to initiate institutional change and possibly bolster state capacity. Evidence from Chile (1848-83) illuminates how commodity booms promoted new state capacity by triggering railroad construction, institution building, and territorial pacification. Evidence from Nigeria (1945-2007) demonstrates how commodity booms opened windows of state building opportunity, but distributive political considerations foreclosed routes to new state capacity. Distributive political tussles over potential state building projects thus explain why similar stimuli can result in dramatically different state building trajectories, thereby refining existing knowledge on post-colonial state formation dynamics.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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