Seminar with Petrus Olander (Lund University)

Title: "Legislators and building state capacity - Evidence from the American states"


In this paper, I examine if early American state legislators were effective in building state capacity. While recent research has shown state legislatures in America engaged actively in building up state capacity we have little sense of how effective they were in doing so. Here, I take a broad approach, examining if the acts passed by legislatures generally strengthened state capacity. I argue that since state legislatures also passed a lot of special legislation, which can hinder policies that would strengthen state capacity from being realized, there is a risk that the legislatures work to strengthen state capacity failed. To test this theory I draw on a new dataset of acts passed by state legislatures from 1787 to 1900. To estimate state capacity, I follow the method used by Lee and Zhang (2016) and construct an estimate of state capacity using aberrations in the census.  Using these indicators, I show that in line with theory, states where the legislature passed more legislation preformed worse in terms of state capacity. This sheds new light on how state capacity was created in America, underlines the importance of looking both at the authority of the states and their ability, and shows how legislators can both help and hinder capacity building. Finally, it points towards the need for further studies to understand what the factors are that can constrain the behavior of legislators.

Published Feb. 12, 2020 4:43 PM - Last modified Feb. 12, 2020 4:43 PM