Leopoldo Fergusson, Carlos A. Molina, James A. Robinson

The Weak State Trap

Development outcomes come in ‘clusters’ that seem difficult to exit. Using original data from Colombia, we present evidence of the interconnection between two critical political components: state weakness and clientelism. State weakness creates the right environment for clientelism to flourish. Clientelism sets in place a structure of incentives for politicians and citizens that is detrimental to building state capacity. We show that vote buying, as a measure of clientelism, and tax evasion, as a measure of state weakness, are highly correlated at the micro level. We also report evidence that both practices are widely accepted in society, a result consistent with a deeply entrenched relationship of mutually reinforcing influences. Finally, we propose a set of mechanisms that underlie the hypothesis that a weak state and widespread clientelism are part of a political equilibrium with multiple feedback loops. Our results suggest that state weakness is a trap that is likely hard to exit.

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The University of Chicago