Political Order and Political Decay, Part I.5

Before getting into the examples of political development Fukuyama goes through in the book, I thought it might be useful to quickly clarify what a strong state is not.

A strong state is not necessarily a large state: there is an important distinction. A strong state has high quality of governance, whereas the size of a state refers to the scope of its functions. The ideal scope of the state depends on the society; a strong state is always preferred to a weak state. To illustrate the point that quality of government is far more important than scope, below is a graph of Govt Revenue as % of GDP (as a proxy for the size of the state) vs Govt Effectiveness (as measured by the World Bank’s World Governance Indicators), with the size of text scaled to the country’s GDP per capita.


Note that while rich states can exist across a span of government sizes, no country can be rich with poor governance. Any outliers, such as Kuwait and Qatar, are of course petro states .

To further illustrate the point, below is a graph of Government Effectiveness vs log GDP per capita that demonstrates the very strong correlation between the two.

This does leave open the possibility of causation running in the other direction. Perhaps it’s that only rich countries can afford good governance?  While I can imagine that causality can run both ways to a degree, I think again the case of petro states indicates that wealth is a not a free ticket to good governance.


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