Grits and Tamales

Life in the Deep South, by Gabriel Aguilera

The author responds…

On 9/23/2011 3:29 PM, Gabriel Aguilera wrote:

Dear Professor:

I wanted to make one comment and raise one question at the end of your
talk, which I enjoyed immensely.

(Author) Thanks.

I was surprised that your model pretty much treats war and peace as
exogenous.  Geography matters, it seems, only with respect to economic
organization but not the security dilemma, at least not as IR types
have articulated this concept.  Paradoxically, as the war makes states
school of scholars has long argued, where the security dilemma is more
intense states will have incentives to build states all else equal.
In Latin America, there is seems to be a high correlation between
external threats (i.e. and a more intense security dilemma) and more
robust states (Mexico, Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Southern
Brazil,&  Argentina).  Overall, the the security dilemma in Latin
America has been rather benign.

Yes. We don’t have as much on international relations. This is because we wanted to draw the line somewhere and also build heavily on our past research. I personally think that several dimensions of international relations are very important for long-run political development. Having said that I am not convinced that the standard Tilly/Herbst line is fully convincing. In other words, I think that external threats can have very different effects depending on domestic politics and history. In particular, external threats and external interventions appear to have led to a very dysfunctional path of state development in sub-Saharan Africa, which is one of the international dimensions on which we spent some time in the book. But much more needs to be done, and that’s an area of future research for me.

I was going to ask about the title of your book: “Why States Fail.”
Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to why states in Latin
America generally don’t fail when prima facie circumstances suggest
strongly that they should.  Colombia, Peru, and Cuba come to mind as
states that should have failed and yet did not do so.  Today we can
add Guatemala to the list of states that should fail.  Why did things
not fall apart in these states?  I have a Huntingtonian read of your
thesis, which I believe is consistent with what I understood from your
presentation: both inclusive as well as exclusive regimes are
incredibly resilient.  Both provide order if not creative destruction
and rapid economic growth.

Well, the title should really be “why some nations fail and some nations succeed” but that’s not a very catchy title.

But your impression is right that we do put some emphasis on the emergence of political centralization (or what Huntington would call “emergence of order”), and both inclusive and extractive institutions lead to political centralization to some degree, and this is a topic we develop in some detail in the book, going back so far as the Neolithic Revolution to start thinking about the roots of this. But I did not have time to talk about this in this short presentation unfortunately.

Last comment: I buy the argument about political institutions not
being what they appear to be and Mexico is, as you noted, a terrific
illustration that is comparable to the U.S. South.  Mexico’s
transition to democracy, on the surface, puts is in one of your bad
diagonals.  Inclusive political institutions + Exclusive economic
institutions.  In fact, the electoral institutions in Mexico remain
heavily biased in favor on vested interests: organized labor and
monopoly capital, public and private.  They remain, in short,
exclusive as you noted.  That said, electoral competition is very real
and is beginning to loosen up the economic institutions.  There has
been movement on anti-trust.  There have been noises about changing
electoral institutions in significant ways.  My guess is that this is
being prodded along by the drug war, which has focused attention on
the state and its performance as voters are getting ready to flock to
the polls next year.

I agree.I think Mexico up to the 1990s is a textbook case of extractive institutions. But things are changing. I agree with you entirely that politics has changed to a significant degree and there is real electoral competition (whereas there wasn’t really any of it during PRI’s domination). But it’s a difficult transition because many dangers remain. In fact I think drug wars are a significant danger because they do threaten the ability of the centralized state to enforce law and order throughout its territory. But I think here too things are not as bad as they first appear. Part of the reason for the spike in drug related violence right now is that the existing equilibrium has been disrupted. So with some luck things may be improving on that score too, though of course there are huge costs that some innocent people are paying in the process.

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