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November 18th, 2019

↳ Economies+of+scale

The Banquet

ADVANCE MECHANISM

The role of the state in economic development

Major accounts of the role of the state in economic development have held that the state is essential for ensuring private property rights—that democratic checks and balances encourage investment and therefore economic growth. Other schools of development stress the importance of promoting economies of scale and export oriented production. In these, the state takes on a far more active role in planning and coordinating investment.

In a remarkably comprehensive 2016 paper, PRANAB BARDHAN brings together disparate literatures to develop a more nuanced understanding of the state's role in economic development:

"Beyond being a 'nightwatchman' of property rights and markets, the state often needs to be a guide, coordinator, stimulator, and a catalytic agent for economic activities in situations where, for various historical and structural reasons, the development process has been atrophied and the path forward is darkened by all kinds of missing information and incomplete markets.

In general, different types of governance mechanisms are appropriate for different tasks. The state can provide leadership to stimulate individuals to interact cooperatively in situations where noncooperative interactions are inefficient. But the state officials may have neither the information nor the motivation to carry out this role. They may be inept or corrupt or simply truant, and the political accountability mechanisms are often much too weak to discipline them. We thus need a whole variety and intermixture of institutional arrangements to cope with the strengths and weaknesses of different coordination mechanisms, and the nature of optimal intermixture changes in the development process."

Link to the essay.

  • Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson's 2001 paper "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development." Link. And Acemoglu, García-Jimeno, and Robinson's 2015 "State Capacity and Economic Development: A Network Approach." Link.
  • James Scott's 1999 Seeing Like a State examines failures of large-scale state development projects. Link.
  • In a paper from 1983, Bardhan draws on econometric evidence from cross-sectional data in rural India to challenge researchers in development economics to rethink the relationship between active labor markets and economic growth: "Contrary to its common characterization as a feudal relic and a symptom of economic stagnation tied-labor may actually be strengthened by capitalist agricultural development." Link.
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