A new Measure of State Capacity

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.

Here is a chart that measures a slew of countries on the extractive capacity dimension in extractive_capacity

Political Regimes

Those of you in my IS210 class may find the Polity IV data to be of use when writing your paper. Click on the image below to take you to the website, where (if you scroll down to the bottom) you can see the regime scores (between -10 and +10) for each country over many years. See the example at the bottom of this post.

Political Regime Types–Polity IV Dataset

Here’s an exampe of the history of movements in regime for El Salvador from 1946 until 2010. How many changes in regime does El Salvador seem to have experienced in the post-WWII period? What happened in the early 1980s?


Polity IV Score in El Salvador

Indicators and The Failed States Index

The Failed State Index is created and updated by the Fund for Peace. For the most recent year (2013), the Index finds the same cast of “failed” characters as previous years. There is some movement, the “top” 10 has not changed much over the last few years.

The Top 10 of the Failed States Index for 2013
The Top 10 of the Failed States Index for 2013

Notice the columns in the image above. Each of these columns is a different indicator of “state-failedness”. If you go to the link above, you can hover over each of the thumbnails to find out what each indicator measures. For, example, the column with what looks like a 3-member family is the score for “Mounting Demographic Pressures”, etc. What is most interesting about the individual indicator scores is how similar they are for each state. In other words, if you know Country X’s score on Mounting Demographic Pressures, you would be able to predict the scores of the other 11 indicators with high accuracy. How high? We’ll just run a simple regression analysis, which we’ll do in IS240 later this semester.

For now, though, I was curious as to how closely each indicator was correlated with the total score. Rather than run regression analyses, I chose (for now) to simply plot the associations. [To be fair, one would want to plot each indicator not against the total but against the total less that indicator, since each indicator comprises a portion (1/12, I suppose) of the total score. In the end, the general results are similar,if not exactly the same.]

So, what does this look like? See the image below (the R code is provided below, for those of you in IS240 who would like to replicate this.)

Plotting each of the Failed State Index (FSI) Indicators against the Total FSI Score
Plotting each of the Failed State Index (FSI) Indicators against the Total FSI Score

Here are two questions that you should ponder:

  1. If you didn’t have the resources and had to choose only one indicator as a measure of “failed-stateness”, which indicator would you choose? Which would you definitely not choose?
  2. Would you go to the trouble and expense of collecting all of these indicators? Why or why not?


install.packages("gdata") #This package must be installed to import .xls file

library(gdata) #If you find error message--"required package missing", it means that you must install the dependent package as well, using the same procedure.

fsi.df<-read.xls("http://ffp.statesindex.org/library/cfsis1301-fsi-spreadsheet178-public-06a.xls")  #importing the data into R, and creating a data frame named fsi.df

pstack.1<-stack(fsi.df[4:15]) #Stacking the indicator variables in a single variable

pstack.df<-data.frame(fsi.df[3],pstack.1) #setting up the data correctly

names(pstack.df)<-c("Total","Score","Indicator") #Changing names of Variables for presentation

install.packages("lattice")  #to be able to create lattice plots

library(lattice) #to load the lattice package

xyplot(pstack.df$Total~pstack.df$Score|pstack.df$Indicator,  groups=pstack.df$Indicator, layout=c(4,3),xlab="FSI Individual Indicator Score", ylab="FSI Index Total")

Links to Articles and other Sources on State Capacity

For your first paper assignment (IS 210) you will be required to compare the nature of the state in two countries. One of the dimensions across which you will compare is state capacity. To help you out, here are some interesting sources:

First, here is the link to a presentation at the World Bank building state capacity in Africa. Here is a description:

If Africa is to have a well-functioning public sector there needs to be a paradigm shift in how to analyze and build state capacity. This is the core message in a new book from the World Bank, Building State Capacity in Africa: New Approaches, Emerging Lessons. Specifically, African governments and their partners should move from a narrow focus on organizational, technocratic, and public management approaches, to a broader perspective that incorporates both the political dynamics and the institutional rules of the game within which public organizations operate.BUILDING STATE CAPACITY IN AFRICA presents and analyzes recent experiences with supply-side efforts to build administrative capacity (administrative reform, pay policies, budget formulation), and demand-side efforts to strengthen government accountability to citizens (role and impact of national parliaments, dedicated anticorruption agencies, political dynamics of decentralization, education decentralization).

The second source is a paper by Mauricio of the Brookings Institution on “State Capacity in Latin America”. Cardenas writes:

State capacity is exceptionally low in Latin America, even when compared to other former colonies. This paper analyzes four possible factors that could potentially explain this troubling feature: political inequality, inequality, interstate conflict and civil war. With the exception of external war, these variables have a negative effect on state-building in models where the accumulation of state capacity is analogous to investment under uncertainty. These analytical predictions are then tested with cross-country data, paying special attention to Latin America. Democracy’s impact on state capacity is quite positive, as is the effect of the frequency of external wars when data for the last century is used. However, in the data for the last half century, external wars have little effect, but the negative effects of internal wars and income inequality become highly significant. The model explains why Latin America has failed to develop its state, despite the improvement in the various measures of democracy. In fact, both the theoretical model and the empirical evidence suggest that the effects of democracy are undermined in the presence of high economic inequality.


Egypt’s Mubarak Seeks Dissolution of Government Amidst Mass Protests

In today’s session of IS 210 we analysed the concept of the state and also talked about the related political concepts of regime and government. We noted that they were conceptually distinct political phenomena with differing levels of institutionalisation–with the state being the most institutionalised, and the government being the least.

In the midst of continuing mass demonstrations against his rule in Egypt, president Hosni Mubarak has asked the government to resign. Mubarak seemingly hopes that the government’s resignation will appease the demonstrators. What’s interesting from our perspective–as students of comparative government–is that Mubarak hopes to maintain his regime at the expense of the government. It is accurate to call the current leadership of Mubarak a regime, since the norms/rules associated with political authority at the national level have been institutioinalised over the course of the almost three-decade reign by Mubarak as Egypt’s president. The question then becomes will the protesters be satisfied with a change in government alone, or will they insist on a change in the nature of this authoritarian regime, which will obviously not be effected without the removal from office of Mubarak himself. As in the case of many authoritarian regimes, in Egypt it is also true that the autocrat is the regime himself.

Here’s more from the CBC on Mubarak’s latest moves:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says he has asked the government to resign and promised reforms as protests engulf his country.

In a televised speech broadcast early Saturday local time, Mubarak used his first public comments since the unrest began to defend the security crackdown on demonstrations.

“I assure you … I’m working for the people…. as long as you’re respecting the law,” Mubarak said.

“We have to be careful of anything that would allow chaos,” he said.

At the same, Mubarak tried to speak to the demonstrators who have filled Egypt’s streets for days.

“I’ll always be on the side of the poor,” he said. “I am with bettering the economy.”

Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for three decades, has been facing the biggest pressure of his tenure.

Before the president spoke, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters defied a night curfew and some reportedly set fire to Mubarak’s party headquarters in Cairo. Flames were seen licking at the National Democratic Party headquarters shortly after 6 p.m. local time, though it was not immediately confirmed how the fire began.

The best real-time coverage of the political events in Egypt is, in my opinion, Al-Jazeera. You can watch live streaming coverage of Al-Jazeera here.

A Wave of Protests across North Africa and the Middle East

Following closely in the aftermath of the dramatic changes that have taken place in Tunisia recently, the political unrest seems to have swept its way across northern Africa, with the situation in Egypt now drawing most of the attention. Alan Cowell of the New York Times writes:

After days of protests that have toppled one president and shaken many others, governments across the Middle East braced on Friday for http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/2011/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/2011/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia outbursts of rage and discontent directed at entrenched regimes confronting an exceptional clamor for democracy.

The immediate epicenter of the protests was Egypt, where Internet and cellphone connections were closed or restricted in Cairo, Alexandria and other places. Riot police took to the streets of Cairo before the Friday noon prayers that in http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/blog/2011/jan/25/middleeast-tunisia parts of the Islamic world have been a prelude to unrest as worshippers pour onto the streets.

The protests have underscored the blistering pace of events that have transformed the visage of the Arab world, particularly among regimes that have traditionally enjoyed the support of successive administrations in Washington.

Note the words that I have changed to red in the quote above. Is this author using these words as synonyms? If so, is he using them as precisely as he could be? Is he using them incorrectly?

For more information, here’s a useful set of reports, with myriad links to video and audio, from the UK Guardian’s Jack Shenker reporting in Cairo. In addition, the CBC website has an interesting flash-type graphic showing how the geographical extent of the spread of the protests.

German Chancellor Merkel–German Multiculturalism a Complete Failure

In a speech to the youth wing of her party last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel proclaimed multiculturalism in Germany a “complete failure.” Merkel’s remarks have caused some consternation both within Germany and abroad. Detractors have used the speech to highlight what they claim is an increasingly strident anti-immigrant (and particularly anti-Muslim) tone in the words and deeds of the right and centre-right in Germany. The clip below–from Al Jazeera’s English-language news program–places Merkel’s comments within the context of the contemporary debate in Europe on issues related to the assimilation/integration of Muslim immigrants. (Note the clip on the recent “burqa controversy” in France.

There is, I believe, a more charitable reading of Chancellor Merkel’s comments. The public debate in Germany on immigration, multiculturalism and the place of immigrants in German society has-for peculiarly German reasons–lagged the reality for a long while. It was not until the election of Gerhard Schroeder’s SDP/Green coalition in 1998 that the German citizenship law was changed to make it consistent with the social reality.

The Relationship between State Autonomy and State Capacity

Amongst the various dimensions of state power are state autonomy and state capacity. It is important to remember that they are distinct concepts and there is no obvious relationship beween the two. As the chart below (taken from Chapter 3 of O’Neil) demonstrates, a state can have high capacity and low autonomy (or vice versa) or high (or low) levels of both. Can you think of a country that would fit in each cell of the 2X2 matrix below?







State is able to fulfill basic tasks, with a minimum of public intervention; power highly centralized; strong state.

Danger: Too high a level of capacity and autonomy may prevent or undermine democracy.

State is able to fulfill basic tasks but public plays a direct role in determining policy and is able to limit state power and scope of activity.Danger: State may be unable to develop new policies or respond to new challenges owing to the power of organized opposition.


State is able to function with a minimum of public interference of direct control, but its capacity to fulfill basic tasks is limited.

Danger: State is ineffectual, limiting development and slow development may provoke public unrest.

State lacks the ability to fulfill basic tasks and is subject to direct public control and interference—power highly decentralized among state and nonstate actors; weak stateDanger: too low a level of capacity and autonomy may lead to internal state failure.

Resources for First Paper (IS 210)–Risk Assessment

Here are some data resources that may be helpful to you while researching and writing your first paper assignment. I’ll be showing you how to use/access some of these sources in class on Thursday, September 23rd.

Continue reading “Resources for First Paper (IS 210)–Risk Assessment”

External Threat and State Capacity

We addressed the history of state-formation in continental Europe and learned that, as Charles Tilly has noted, war and state-making were interconnected.  The stronger the nascent state, the better it was able to wage war and vice versa.  War-making, of course, required strong coercive and extractive (in the form of taxes and other renumerations) of the state vis-a-vis its domicile population.  Mix in a little bit of nationalism and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a strong state.

A recent article in the Journal of Peace Research [subscription only] by David Lektzian and Brandon Pine, demonstrates the empirical validity of the state-making/war-making nexus.  The argue that the larger the perception of “external threat” the more latitiude do leaders have in increasing the capacity of the state.  Here is the abstract to the paper:

Taming the Leviathan: Examining the Impact of External Threat on State Capacity

This article argues that the systemic security environment influences the structure of domestic political and economic institutions. If states have been primarily created to protect one group from predation by another, then the state may visibly change as external threats rise and fall. The authors argue that political elites respond to threatening environments by enhancing the ability of the state to extract resources from society in order to protect itself. Using data from the Armed Conflict Dataset, Banks’s Cross National Data Archive, and COW data from 1975 to 1995, the authors find evidence that supports the conjectured relationship between threat and state strength. As a response to a more threatening environment, the authors find that states significantly increase their capacity in terms of revenue, government spending, and military spending, but they do not easily relinquish these gains. The authors also observe that nation-state security is heavily influenced by regional regime-type patterns. State capacity increases as the regional neighborhood becomes increasingly autocratic. This suggests political elites not only regard violent conflict in the region as a serious concern to national security, but also appear to consider political change a threat as well.