In a recent working paper by Hanson and Sigman, of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, the authors explore the concept(s) of state capacity. The paper title–Leviathan’s Latent Dimensions: Measuring State Capacity for Comparative Political Research, complies with my tongue-in-cheek rule about the names of social scientific papers. Hanson and Sigman use statistical methods (specifically, latent variable analysis) to tease out the important dimensions of state capacity. Using a series of indexes created by a variety of scholars, organizations, and think tanks, the authors conclude that there are three distinct dimensions of state capacity, which they label i) extractive, ii) coercive, and iii) administrative state capacity.
Here is an excerpt:
The meaning of state capacity varies considerably across political science research. Further complications arise from an abundance of terms that refer to closely related attributes of states: state strength or power, state fragility or failure, infrastructural power, institutional capacity, political capacity, quality of government or governance, and the rule of law. In practice, even when there is clear distinction at the conceptual level, data limitations frequently lead researchers to use the same
empirical measures for differing concepts.
For both theoretical and practical reasons we argue that a minimalist approach to capture the essence of the concept is the most effective way to define and measure state capacity for use in a wide range of research. As a starting point, we define state capacity broadly as the ability of state institutions to effectively implement official goals (Sikkink, 1991). This definition avoids normative conceptions about what the state ought to do or how it ought to do it. Instead, we adhere to the notion that capable states may regulate economic and social life in different ways, and may achieve these goals through varying relationships with social groups…
…We thus concentrate on three dimensions of state capacity that are minimally necessary to carry out the functions of contemporary states: extractive capacity, coercive capacity, and administrative capacity. These three dimensions, described in more detail below,accord with what Skocpol identifies as providing the “general underpinnings of state capacities” (1985: 16): plentiful resources, administrative-military control of a territory, and loyal and skilled officials.