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

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")

Development and Underdevelopment–the Commanding Heights

We addressed the topic of development and underdevelopment in POLI 1100 this week. Amongst the many issues covered, we started to explore some of the alleged causes of economic growth and development. Why is there still such disparity in income and economic growth around the world, not only between countries, but within? Why have countries in the global “South” lagged behind, for the most part, their counterparts in the global “North”? There are various answers to this question and we addressed a couple of them in class. I showed clips from a fantastic documentary series put together by PBS, called (and based on the book of the same name) The Commanding Heights. All the information you’ll need is at the PBS website. Fortunately, each of the three 2-hour episodes has also been uploaded (in its entirety) to the Internet. From the narration at the beginning of the first episode, we learn that

This is the story of how the new global economy was born. A century-long battle as to which would control the commanding heights of the world’s economies–governments or markets.

I encourage you to watch all three episodes.


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.


Theories of Ethnic Identity Formation and Ethnic Violence & Ivory Coast

In IS 309 this evening, we assessed the strengths and weaknesses of three competing theories of ethnic identity (and ethnic violence)–constructivism, primordialism, and instrumentalism. We read the following:

  • Fearon, James D. and David D. Laitin. 2000. Review: Violence and the Social Construction of
    Ethnic Identity,” International Organization, 54:4, pp. 845-877
  • Harvey, Frank P. 2000. Primordialism, Evolutionary Theory and Ethnic Violence in the Balkans:
    Opportunities and Constraints for Theory and Policy,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 33:1,
    pp. 37-65
  • Collett, Moya. 2006. Ivoirian identity constructions: ethnicity and nationalism in the prelude to
    civil war,” Nations and Nationalism, 12(4), 613-629
  • Kaplan, Robert. D. 1993. Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through history Part I and One Chapter from each of Parts II, III, and IV.
  • Hechter, Michael. 1995. Explaining Nationalist Violence,” Nations and Nationalism, Vol 1(1), 53-68.
  • We then viewed a video on the breakdown of political life in the Ivory Coast and the descent of that once relatively prosperous west African state into civil war. The civil war was characterised as a battle between the “Muslim-populated north and the Christian-dominated south.” How accurate is this characterisation of the ethnic character of Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war?


    For information about the current political situation, in the wake of the refusal of former(?) President Laurent Gbagbo to acknowledge having lost power in elections held several weeks ago, watch these.

    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.

    Failed States and the Fund for Peace’s Failed States Index 2010

    On Thursday, September 23rd we will begin to analyse the exceptionally important concept–the state. It will become strikingly obvious that a strong state is a necessary–but not sufficient–condition for political stability, political and personal liberty, democracy, and economic well-being. Conversely, citizens living in weak, failing, or failed states face lives of economic destitution, personal insecurity (think of Hobbes’ state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish, and short), and lack of basic rights and freedoms. The Fund for Peace publishes an annual index of failed and failing states. A quick look at the results over the last decade or so finds that the same dozen or so states are continually at the top of the list of failed/failing states. Here is a map depicting the results of the most recent index:

    Notice the geographical concentration of failed states (in red). Why are the vast majority of the world’s failed states found in central Africa and southwest Asia?

    What are the characteristics of failed states that distinguish them from more stable states? Maybe this video of life in Somalia will provide some clues:

    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.

    Dependency Theory and Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI)

    PBS broadcast a tremendously informative series called Commanding Heights, which took a look at the the battle over the world’s political economy during the 20th century.  Below you’ll find a portion of the episode on Latin America, which has been uploaded to You Tube.  The clip below explains the concept of dependency theory–the theoretical impetus behind the establishment of the political economic institution of import-substitution-industrialization (ISI).  Unfortunately, ISI did not work very well in practice, and Moises Naim–the editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, explains why in the clip below.

    P.S. “The Chicago Boys” were not Michael, Scotty, and Phil. 🙂

    Comparative Politics–Paper One Assignment

    Here is the prompt for the first paper in Comparative. The state is an extremely important concept in comparative politics and we will refer to it and its characteristics again and again over the course of the semester. As such, it is important to develop a strong understanding of the state as a concept, and it is, therefore, the topic of the first paper assignment.

    Introduction to Comparative Politics Paper 1

    O’Neil writes that while many different types of political organization have existed throughout orld history, the

    globe is now clearly demarcated by only one type of political organization–the state–that over the past few hundred years has displaced vitually all other political structures. Almost no inhabitable territory or people on the face of the earth is not claimed by some state.

    For this paper, please select two states as the subject of your paper, one of which is s developed state and the other of which is a “Top-40” state on the Failed States Index (i.e. it falls in either the red or orange categories). Your task is to comparatively analyze the nature of the state in each of these two states. I want you to mostly describe (i.e., what, where, when, etc.), but also explain (how, why) the similarities and differences between the state in these two states by answering the following questions:

    • When was the state formed? How was it formed? That is, was it formed through revolution, secession, de-colonization, etc.
    • What is the nature of the current ruling regime (democratic, authoritarian), how long has this regime been in place, and does this state have a tendency to rotate types of regime frequently?
    • The nature of the government? Do governments tend to last? Are they replaced democratically?
    • Assess the nature of the legitimacy of the regime. Is the regime seen as legitimate? On which of the three Weberian ideal-types of legitimacy does the legitimacy of the regimes mostly rest?
    • Is this state centralized or decentralized?
    • Is the state strong and does it have high capacity? What kinds of evidence have you used to support the previous claim?
    • Lastly, is state autonomy high or low? Please explain.

    Please use chapter 2 of the O’Neil book (Essentials of Comparative Politics) as a source for the paper. For information related to your specific states, you will have to consult at least 3 other academically reputable sources. Note that this means Google1 is not your friend here!! This will entail a trip down to the library by foot, or a virtual trip to the library’s electronic resources. In addition, pleaes avail yourself of the many posts on my link to resources that collect data on different aspects of the state. Finally, use the course page at the Library’s website for further sources to use, such as Country Watch.
    Your paper should be 4 − 5 pages long, double-spaced on 8.5X11 − inch paper, with 1-inch margins on the top, bottom, and the sides. The paper must be written in Times Roman 12pt. The paper is due electronically via Digital Dropbox in Blackboard by the beginning of class on…