Erik Snowberg (Alesina Seminar)


Thursday, September 29, 2022, 4:30pm to 5:45pm


CGIS Knafel Building, room K354 or Online via Zoom

Today's Speaker

Erik Snowberg (University of British Columbia), "An Organizational Theory of State Capacity" (with Mike Ting, Columbia University)


A burgeoning literature recognizes that the efficacy of the state is crucial for economic growth and citizen welfare. However, much of that literature abstracts away from the institutional details underlying state capacity. We develop a theory that provides a working definition of state capacity—the ability to handle administrative problems of varying complexity, such as tax collection—and how it is provided and maintained. We conceive of the state as a knowledge hierarchy, or an information-processing institution that passes problems up a set of organizational layers until a layer with the required expertise solves it. Knowledge hierarchies are costly to establish and operate, and politicians differ in policy preferences and public goods valuations. We embed this structure in a simple political economy framework, where politicians may idle parts of the state depending on electoral prospects, thus reducing output. In conjunction with high partisanship, this gives the state designer incentives to distort the state away from efficient levels of capacity and specialization.

Co-sponsored by FAS and IQSS, the Alberto Alesina Seminar on Political Economy supports research-related activities that integrate the study of economics and politics, whether by studying economic behavior in the political process or political behavior in the marketplace. In general, positive political economy is concerned with showing how observed differences among institutions affect political and economic outcomes in various social, economic, and political systems and how the institutions themselves change and develop in response to individual and collective beliefs, preferences, and strategies.

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See the seminar's full schedule at the Alesina Seminar page.

All interested faculty and students are invited to attend.