James Robinson

James Robinson
University of Chicago | UC · Department of Political Science

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178
Publications
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Publications

Publications (178)
Article
We develop a theory of the accumulation of state capacity as the outcome of a political competition between elites and (civil) society. State capacity is accumulated by elites, and it is productive as well as useful in controlling society. However, society can fight back and accumulate its own capacity, facilitating collective action. The theory le...
Article
What is the impact of warfare on inequality and the social contract? Using local data on bombing, the evolution of wealth inequality and vote shares for the Labour Party in Britain around the Second World War, we establish two results. First, on average, we find no impact of bombing on inequality. However, there is considerable heterogeneity, and t...
Article
We use the impact of the Dissolution of the English monasteries in 1535 to test the commercialization hypothesis about the roots of long-run English economic development. Before the Dissolution, monastic lands were relatively unencumbered by inefficient feudal land tenure, but could not be sold. The Dissolution created a market for formerly monasti...
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Existing theories of democratic reversals emphasize that elites mount actions like coups when democracy is particularly threatening to their interests. However, existing theory has been largely silent on the role of elite social networks, which interact with economic incentives and may facilitate antidemocratic collective action. We develop a model...
Chapter
Fragility arises when states are ineffective and when they are also illegitimate and unaccountable. These features are interconnected. People don’t want to cooperate with, or cede resources to, a state they cannot influence. We present a simple framework where the key to exiting fragility is a balance between the state and society. The state needs...
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We provide a potential explanation, based on the “political agenda effect”, for the absence of, and unwillingness to create, centralized power in the hands of a national state. State centralization induces citizens of different backgrounds, interests, regions or ethnicities to coordinate their demands in the direction of more general-interest publi...
Article
We test the longstanding hypothesis that ethnic groups organized around “segmentary lineages” are more prone to conflict. Ethnographic accounts suggest that in such societies, which are characterized by strong allegiances to distant relatives, individuals are obligated to come to the aid of fellow lineage members when they become involved in confli...
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This paper investigates whether information about improved public services can help build trust in state institutions and move people away from nonstate actors. We find that (truthful) information about reduced delays in state courts in rural Pakistan leads to citizens reporting higher likelihood of using them and to greater allocations to the stat...
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We present the approach to comparative economic development of Why Nations Fail. Economic prosperity requires inclusive economic institutions—those which create broad based incentives and opportunities in society. Extractive economic institutions, which lack these properties, create poverty. Variation in economic institutions is created by differen...
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This paper documents that indigenous democratic practices are associated with contemporary representative democracy. The basic association is conditioned on the relative strength of the indigenous groups within a country; stronger groups were able to shape national regime trajectories, weaker groups were not. Our analyses suggest that institutions...
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Few phenomena have had as profound or long-lasting consequences in human history as the emergence of large-scale centralized states in the place of smaller scale and more local societies. This study examines a fundamental, and yet unexplored, consequence of state formation: its genetic legacy. We studied the genetic impact of state centralization d...
Article
We provide evidence that democracy has a positive effect on GDP per capita. Our dynamic panel strategy controls for country fixed effects and the rich dynamics of GDP, which otherwise confound the effect of democracy. To reduce measurement error, we introduce a new indicator of democracy that consolidates previous measures. Our baseline results sho...
Article
We use variation in historical state centralization to examine the long-term impact of institutions on cultural norms. The Kuba Kingdom, established in Central Africa in the early 17th century by King Shyaam, had more developed state institutions than the other independent villages and chieftaincies in the region. It had an unwritten constitution,...
Article
We argue that in a technologically interconnected world, the world equilibrium may be asym- metric, involving dierent economic institutions and technology levels for dierent countries. In our model, all countries bene…t and potentially contribute to advances in the world technol- ogy frontier. A greater gap of incomes between successful and unsucce...
Article
We present evidence that the traditional structure of society is an important determinant of the scope of trust today. Within Africa, individuals belonging to ethnic groups that organized society using segmentary lineages exhibit a more limited scope of trust, measured by the gap between trust in relatives and trust in non-relatives. This trust gap...
Article
Ancient Greece has long exercised a powerful hold on the imagination of modern political science. But until fairly recently, this influence has largely been philosophical, related to the origins of many theoretical concepts—including the concept of politics itself—in the ancient world. In The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece , Josiah Ober offers a...
Article
In recent years many countries have witnessed a great deal of volatility in public budgets, be it due to volatility in the access to foreign loans in Greece, or to unstable oil prices in Venezuela. We study the political consequences of such public income volatility. As is standard, in our model political incentives create inefficient policies to i...
Chapter
In this paper we present a new approach to thinking about the circumstances under which inclusive political institutions, consisting of a state with capacity and a broad distribution of political power, emerge. Different scholars have emphasized different paths towards such institutions, with some emphasizing modernization, and others emphasizing t...
Article
Ober’s Rise and Fall of Classical Greece represents a major restatement of our understanding of Classical Greece based on integrating the new social science studies in classics that have flourished over the past quarter of a century. The book tackles many of the major questions in modern social science: Why did an oligarchy decide to share power wi...
Article
Robert Gordon's The Rise and Fall of American Economic Growth compellingly shows how technical innovation, stimulated by the country's institutions, has radically improved the living standards of the citizens of the US. We conduct an empirical investigation of the impact of the capacity of the US state, as proxied by the presence of post offices, o...
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Full-text available
Ober’s Rise and Fall of Classical Greece represents a major restatement of our understanding of Classical Greece based on integrating the new social science studies in classics that have flourished over the past quarter of a century. The book tackles many of the major questions in modern social science: Why did an oligarchy decide to share power wi...
Article
For most of the country's history, the majority of Colombians have been in absolute poverty and plagued by violence and insecurity. I argue that the extent and persistence of poverty and violence in Colombia is a consequence of extractive facets of political institutions. These have two main dimensions; the very low quality of "actually existing de...
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Full-text available
We examine the long-run economic impact of the Dissolution of the English monasteries in 1535,which is plausibly linked to the commercialization of agriculture and the location of the IndustrialRevolution. Using monastic income at the parish level as our explanatory variable, we show that parisheswhich the Dissolution impacted more had more textile...
Article
We use a variant of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to examine individuals' implicit attitudes towards various ethnic groups. Using a population from the Democratic Republic of Congo, we find that the IAT measures show evidence of an implicit bias in favor of one's own ethnicity. Individuals have implicit views of their own ethnic group that ar...
Article
Thomas Piketty's (2013) book, Capital in the 21st Century, follows in the tradition of the great classical economists, like Marx and Ricardo, in formulating general laws of capitalism to diagnose and predict the dynamics of inequality. We argue that general economic laws are unhelpful as a guide to understanding the past or predicting the future be...
Article
What determines the extent of electoral fraud? This paper constructs a model of the tradeoff between fraud and policy concessions (public good provision) which also incorporates the strength of the state. In addition, we parameterize the extent to which economic elites (to whom fraud is costly) and political elites (to whom fraud is advantageous) “...
Article
In this paper we revisit the relationship between institutions, human capital and development. We argue that empirical models that treat institutions and human capital as exogenous are misspecified both because of the usual omitted variable bias problems and because of differential measurement error in these variables, and that this misspecificatio...
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[D]espite all of the gains under the past two presidents, neither administration has broken with the fundamental system of governance that created the country's problems.
Article
In this note we show how a considerably simpler model than the one in our original JDE 2006 paper generates all the same results. We also acknowledge an error in the specification of a utility function in our previous paper.
Article
We study the direct and spillover effects of local state capacity using the network of Colombian municipalities. We model the determination of local and national state capacity as a network game in which each municipality, anticipating the choices and spillovers created by other municipalities and the decisions of the national government, invests i...
Article
We provide evidence that democracy has a significant and robust positive effect on GDP. Our empirical strategy relies on a dichotomous measure of democracy coded from several sources to reduce measurement error and controls for country fixed effects and the rich dynamics of GDP, which otherwise confound the effect of democracy on economic growth. O...
Article
Elites have a disproportionate impact on development outcomes. While a country's endowments constitute the deep determinates of growth, the trajectory they follow is shaped by the actions of elites. But what factors affect whether elites use their influence for individual gain or national welfare? To what extent do they see poverty as a problem? An...
Article
Economists have long been drawn to the ambitious quest of discovering the general laws of capitalism. David Ricardo, for example, predicted that capital accumulation would terminate in economic stagnation and inequality as a greater and greater share of national income accrued to landowners. Karl Marx followed him by forecasting the inevitable immi...
Article
The lowest level of government in sub-Saharan Africa is often a cadre of chiefs who raise taxes, control the judicial system and allocate the most important scarce resource - land. Chiefs, empowered by colonial indirect rule, are often accused of using their power despotically and inhibiting rural development. Yet others view them as traditional re...
Article
I use the historical institutions of the Trobriand Islands to discuss problems and non-problems with measuring institutions and estimating their causal effects on economic outcomes.
Article
The standard approach to policy-making and advice in economics implicitly or explicitly ignores politics and political economy, and maintains that if possible, any market failure should be rapidly removed. This essay explains why this conclusion may be incorrect; because it ignores politics, this approach is oblivious to the impact of the removal o...
Article
In this paper we investigate the empirical correlates of political centralization using data from the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample. We specifically investigate the explanatory power of the standard models of Eurasian state formation which emphasize the importance of high population density, inter-state warfare and trade as factors leading to poli...
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One of the great technological puzzles of Sub-Saharan African economic history is that wheeled transportation was barely used prior to the colonial period. Instead, head porterage was the main method of transportation. Though early colonial o¢ cials regarded this is highly ine¢ cient, the consensus amongst historians is that rather this was a ratio...
Article
1 In this manuscript, a companion to Acemoglu, Reed and Robinson (2012), we provide a detailed history of Paramount Chieftaincies of Sierra Leone. British colonialism transformed society in the country in 1896 by empowering a set of Paramount Chiefs as the sole authority of local government in the newly created Sierra Leone Protectorate. Only indiv...
Article
In this paper we revisit the relationship between democracy, redistribution and inequality. We first explain the theoretical reasons why democracy is expected to increase redistribution and reduce inequality, and why this expectation may fail to be realized when democracy is captured by the richer segments of the population; when it caters to the p...
Article
In this paper we evaluate the impact of colonialism on development in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the world context, colonialism had very heterogeneous effects, operating through many mechanisms, sometimes encouraging development sometimes retarding it. In the African case, however, this heterogeneity is muted, making an assessment of the average effect...
Article
Because of their more limited inequality and more comprehensive social welfare systems, many perceive average welfare to be higher in Scandinavian societies than in the United States. Why then does the United States not adopt Scandinavian-style institutions? More generally, in an interdependent world, would we expect all countries to adopt the same...
Article
We develop a political economy model where some politicians have a comparative advantage in undertaking a task and this gives them an electoral advantage. This creates an incentive to underperform in the task in order to maintain their advantage. We interpret the model in the context of fighting against insurgents in a civil war and derive two main...
Article
In this article, we argue that when patron-client relations are grounded in economic relationships, such as between landlord and worker, we should expect clientelism to influence not just how public policy, the state, and the political system work, but also how the economy works. We develop a simple model of the economic consequences of electoral c...
Article
Slavery has been a major institution of labor coercion throughout history. Colonial societies used slavery intensively across the Americas, and slavery remained prevalent in most countries after independence from the European powers. We investigate the impact of slavery on long-run development in Colombia. Our identification strategy compares munic...
Article
Societies are molded by their institutions that determine both their levels of prosperity and how that prosperity is distributed within society. For most of its history the U.S. has had economic institutions which have been comparatively inclusive in the sense that economic opportunities have been open to most, the playing field has been level, and...
Article
In the West are the 'haves', while much of the rest of the world are the 'have-nots'. The extent of inequality today is unprecedented. Drawing on an extraordinary range of contemporary and historical examples, Why Nations Fail looks at the root of the problems facing some nations. Economists and scientists have offered useful insights into the reas...
Article
Previous studies suggest that the higher is the level of political instability (PI), the lower is the investment rate. Yet, some paradoxical findings have been left unanswered, in particular concerning the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where conventional measures of PI are extremely low and positively rather than negatively related to...
Article
Voters often dismantle constitutional checks and balances on the executive. If such checks and balances limit presidential abuses of power and rents, why do voters support their removal? We argue that by reducing politician rents, checks and balances also make it cheaper to bribe or influence politicians through non-electoral means. In weakly-insti...
Article
In this synthesis, Fukuyama draws on history, archaeology, economics, and evolutionary biology to explain the course from the emergence of tribal societies to the development of political accountability in 18th-century Europe.
Article
The English Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 is one of the most famous instances of ‘institutional’ change in world history which has fascinated scholars because of the role it may have played in creating an environment conducive to making England the first industrial nation. This claim was most forcefully advanced by North and Weingast yet the exist...
Article
Why was the Black Death followed by the decline of serfdom in Western Europe but its' intensification in Eastern Europe? What explains why involvement in Atlantic trade in the Early Modern period was positively correlated with economic growth in Britain but negatively correlated in Spain? Why did frontier expansion in the 19th Century Americas go a...
Article
David Albouy expresses three main concerns about the results in Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson (2001) on the relationship between potential settler mortality and institutions. First, there is a general concern that there are high mortality outliers, potentially affecting this relationship, with which we agree. However, limiting the effect of outlie...
Article
Does production technology adoption a¤ect conict? This paper studies this question with yearly historical data on weather, peasant revolts and the di¤usion of sweet potatoes in China between 1470 and 1900. It shows that droughts increased peasant revolts by about 10% whereas the e¤ect of oods was not signi…cant. Moreover, the di¤usion of a new crop...
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Though models of political economy suggest that changes in political institutions, such as democratization, should have large effects on policies and economic outcomes, the empirical literature finds ambiguous results. It is important, however, to 'unbundle' democratic reforms into more specific changes, for instance the introduction of secrecy of...
Article
In this paper we argue that the main determinant of differences in prosperity across countries are differences in economic institutions. To solve the problem of development will entail reforming these institutions. Unfortunately, this is difficult because economic institutions are collective choices that are the outcome of a political process. The...
Article
The English Parliament's struggle for supremacy in the seventeenth century was crucial for the development of representative government in the English-speaking world, yet its lessons continue to be debated. This paper provides the first sys-tematic evidence on the determinants of individuals' decisions to join the coalition for revolutionary reform...
Article
Europe experienced a "Commercial Revolution" in the late Middle Ages. We present new data that document this transformation using information on city incorporation and market establishment. We then test whether universities played a causal role in expanding economic activity, examining the consequences of their exogenous establishment in Germany fo...
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In this paper we take for granted that the poverty of Sub-Saharan Africa is to a large part explained by its political and economic institutions. As citizens Africans do not have the incentives to save and invest, as politicians they do not have the incentive to provide public goods. We focus on the issue of how Africa developed such institutions....
Article
In this paper, we suggest a new rationale for the existence of interlinked contracts in the agrarian economies of developing countries. Using the framework of an infinitely repeated game with discounting, we show that interlinked contracts can help the dominant parties to collude, in cases where collusion is not possible with noninterlinked contrac...
Article
The question of who guards the guards is intimately connected with broader questions of state capacity and the establishment of a monopoly of violence in society, something which is often viewed as the defining feature of the modern state. But to establish such a monopoly, civilian rulers need not only to build an effective military, but also to co...
Article
Under British Master and Servant law, employee breach of contract was a criminal offense between 1351 and 1875, punishable by fines and imprisonment. We examine the economic motivation behind employees' breach of contract, and its prosecution by employers in 19th century Britain. We develop a model of risk-sharing between employers and employees th...
Article
From poverty's origins to the source of past epidemics, many things can't be studied using standard experiments – so how do we deal with then?
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In recent theories of comparative development, the role of institutional differences has been crucial. Yet, what explains comparative institutional evolution? We investigate this issue by studying the coffee exporting economies of Latin America. Although homogeneous in many ways, they experienced radically different paths of economic (and political...
Article
In this paper I discuss the role of industrial policy in development. I make five arguments. First, from a theoretical pointof view there are good grounds for believing that industrial policy can play an important role in promoting development. Second, there certainly are examples where industrial policy has played this role. Third, for every such...
Article
We document a statistical association between the severity of the persecution, displacement and mass murder of Jews by the Nazis during World War II and long-run economic and political outcomes within Russia. Cities that experienced the Holocaust most intensely have grown less, and both cities and administrative districts (oblasts) where the Holoca...
Article
Particular sets of institutions, once they become established in a society, have a strong tendency to persist. In this paper I argue that understanding how elites form and reproduce is key to understanding the persistence of institutions over time. I illustrate this idea with a simple political economy theory of institutions and through examples fr...
Article
Many theories, most famously Max Weber's essay on the "Protestant ethic," have hypothe-sized that Protestantism should have favored economic development. With their considerable religious heterogeneity and stability of denominational affiliations until the 19th century, the German Lands of the Holy Roman Empire present an ideal testing ground for t...
Article
Many states in Latin America, Africa and Asia lack the monopoly of violence, identified by Max Weber as the foundation of the state, and thus the capacity to govern effectively. In this paper we develop a new perspective on the establishment of the monopoly of violence and the formation of the state. We build a model to explain the incentive of cen...
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In this paper we investigate empirically whether or not the notion of an enclave adds substantially to existing knowledge of the determinants of long-run economic, political, or institutional development. We discuss the prominent place of enclaves in historical accounts in the dependent development literature, particularly in the work of Cardoso an...
Article
Economic and social outcomes, including incomes, poverty, life expectancy, and infant mortality, differ widely between societies. Such inequalities within countries also vary to a great degree. Despite the importance and ubiquity of these differences, their sources are poorly understood and hotly debated. Although we know how the broad patterns of...
Article
This study has been prepared within the UNU-WIDER project on Country Role Models for Development Success, directed by Augustin Fosu. UNU-WIDER gratefully acknowledges the financial contributions to the project by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the financial contributions to the research programme by the governments of Denmark (Royal...
Article
In this paper I argue that the most important consequences of the current economic crisis for developing countries will not be the direct negative economic e¤ects, which have received the most attention. More important are the induced e¤ects on politics, policy and institutions. In this context I ask: can the crisis provide opportune circumstances...
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Every dictator dislikes free media. Yet, many non-democratic countries have partially free or almost free media. In this paper, we develop a theory of media freedom in dictatorships and provide systematic statistical evidence in support of this theory. In our model, free media allow a dictator to provide incentives to bureaucrats and therefore to i...
Article
The French Revolution of 1789 had a momentous impact on neighboring countries. The French Revolutionary armies during the 1790s and later under Napoleon invaded and controlled large parts of Europe. Together with invasion came various radical institutional changes. French invasion removed the legal and economic barriers that had protected the nobil...
Article
This paper provides a survey on studies that analyze the macroeconomic effects of intellectual property rights (IPR). The first part of this paper introduces different patent policy instruments and reviews their effects on R&D and economic growth. This part also discusses the distortionary effects and distributional consequences of IPR protection a...
Article
In this paper we discuss whether or not 'governance' is an important source of variation in development experiences. We draw four main conclu-sions. First, governance is best thought of a sub-set of 'institutions' and as such emphasis on governance is consistent with much recent academic work. Nevertheless, governance is a quite vague rubric which...
Article
We develop a model to understand the incidence of presidential and parliamentary institutions. Our analysis is predicated on two ideas: first, that minorities are relatively powerful in a parliamentary system compared to a presidential system, and second, that presidents have more power with respect to their own coalition than prime ministers do. T...
Article
This paper provides a survey on studies that analyze the macroeconomic effects of intellectual property rights (IPR). The first part of this paper introduces different patent policy instruments and reviews their effects on R&D and economic growth. This part also discusses the distortionary effects and distributional consequences of IPR protection a...
Article
This paper constructs measures of the extent of ballot stuffing (fraudulent votes) and electoral coercion at the municipal level using data from Colombia's 1922 Presidential elections. Our main findings are that the presence of the state reduced the extent of ballot stuffing, but that of the clergy, which was closely imbricated in partisan politics...
Article
I am greatly indebted to Mohamed Gibril Sesay without whose assistance and wisdom I would never have been able to undertake this research. Most of the ideas I discuss here formed during discussions with him. I am also particularly indebted to Ishac Diwan who suggested and facilitated this research and most important challenged me to make it ambitio...
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Political corruption is a concern of many modern democracies. It weakens democratic insti-tutions, restricts public services, and lowers productivity undermining economic development. Yet despite its importance, we know little about its causes. We construct new measures of political corruption in local governments using audit reports from an anti-c...
Article
Though many empirical and theoretical approaches to comparative development assume that institutions persist for long periods of time, specific institutions vary a lot over periods as long as a century. Therefore, a convincing theory of institutional persistence must explain how persistence of institutional equilibria and accompanying incentive env...