Carl Henrik Knutsen
Department of Political Science, University of Oslo
Various authors (including Acemoglu & Robinson and Fukuyama) have recently published impressive books on political and economic development. Boix adds to this by asking why and how states are established, when different political regimes appear, and how regimes affect economic inequality and growth. In an impressively coherent and convincing analysis of development from early hunter-gatherer societies until today, Boix highlights how economic equality enables social co-operation in stateless societies, and how production technologies altering income distributions affect state formation. He addresses the particular conditions that engender ‘republican’ regimes (where ‘producers’ hold power) rather than monarchic (where ‘exploiters’ hold power), and explains why most regimes, historically, have constrained economic growth. The parsimonious theoretical argument allows Boix to present a coherent analysis, despite the diverse empirical material – including data on social stratification in early foraging/agricultural societies, height distributions among Native Americans, and meetings of parliaments in early modern Europe. Numerous instructive case descriptions appear, but what separates this from other book-length contributions is the systematic data analysis and focus on causal identification (reflected in the clever use of instruments throughout); this lends greater credibility to the argument. Boix is not equally convincing when ‘debunking’ plausible alternative arguments; the analysis on European parliaments and urbanization – taken as evidence against ‘institutionalist explanations’ of economic development – will fail to sway many ‘institutionalists’. Still, Boix presents a nuanced (complementary) explanation on political and economic development, and excels when discussing how interactions between production technologies, economic inequalities and war technologies shaped political institutions in pre-modern and early modern history. In sum, Boix’ account is comprehensive, coherent, pleasant to read, and backed up by empirical evidence.