Publications by Author: Bates, Robert H

The Development Dilemma: Security, Prosperity, and a Return to History
Bates, Robert H. 2017. The Development Dilemma: Security, Prosperity, and a Return to History. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Publisher's Version Abstract

Today’s developing nations emerged from the rubble of the Second World War. Only a handful of these countries have subsequently attained a level of prosperity and security comparable to that of the advanced industrial world. The implication is clear: those who study the developing world in order to learn how development can be achieved lack the data to do so.

In The Development Dilemma, Robert Bates responds to this challenge by turning to history, focusing on England and France. By the end of the eighteenth century, England stood poised to enter “the great transformation.” France by contrast verged on state failure, and life and property were insecure. Probing the histories of these countries, Bates uncovers a powerful tension between prosperity and security: both may be necessary for development, he argues, but efforts to achieve the one threaten the achievement of the other. A fundamental tension pervades the political economy of development.

Bates also argues that while the creation of a central hierarchy—a state—may be necessary to the achievement of development, it is not sufficient. What matters is how the power of the state is used. France and England teach us that in some settings the seizure and redistribution of wealth—not its safeguarding and fostering—is a winning political strategy. These countries also suggest the features that mark those settings—features that appear in nations throughout the developing world.

Returning to the present, Bates applies these insights to the world today. Drawing on fieldwork in Zambia and Kenya, and data from around the globe, he demonstrates how the past can help us to understand the performance of nations in today’s developing world.


When praised at all, imperialism is most often commended for the peace it bestowed. By demobilizing armies, deposing marauding princes and subduing war-like states, European powers fashioned a half-century of political order. The question nonetheless arises: Should they be lauded for that? In this chapter, I view Africa’s history through the lens of comparative history and argue that the imperial peace may have retarded Africa’s development.

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Bates, Robert H. 2012. “Income and Democracy: Lipset’s Law Inverted.” Oxford Centre for the Analysis of Resource Rich Economies. Oxford Centre for the Analysis of Resource Rich Economies. Publisher's Version Abstract

We revisit Lipset’s law, which posits a positive and significant relationship between income and democracy. Using dynamic and heterogeneous panel data estimation techniques, we find a significant and negative relationship between income and democracy: higher/lower incomes per capita hinder/trigger democratization. We thus challenge the recent empirical literature that found no such significant relationship. We attribute this result to the nature of the tax base, and exploit additional sources of heterogeneity. Decomposing overall income per capita into its resource and non-resource components, we find that the coefficient on the latter is positive and significant while that on the former is significant but negative.

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Bates, Robert H. 2012. “The New Institutionalism and Africa.” The Journal of African Politics. The Journal of African Politics. Publisher's Version Abstract

After briefly reviewing the new institutionalism, this article uses the history of political reform in Africa to test its key tenet: that power, if properly organized, is a productive resource. It does so by exploring the relationship between changes in political institutions and changes in economic performance, both at the macro- and the micro-level. The evidence indicates that political reform (Granger) causes increases in GDP per capita in the African subset of global data. And, at the micro-level, it demonstrates that changes in national political institutions in Africa strongly relate to changes in total factor productivity in agriculture.

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Carter, Brett, and Robert H. Bates. 2012. “Public Policy, Price Shocks, and Civil War in Developing Countries”. Abstract

Those who study the role of agriculture in the political economy of development focus on government policy choices on the one hand and the impact of price shocks on the other. We argue that the two should be studied together. We nd that civil unrest (Granger) causes government policies, pushing governments in poor and medium income countries to shift relative prices in favor of urban consumers. We also nd that while civil wars are related to food price shocks, when government policy choices are taken into account, the relationship disappears. We thus learn two things: Policies that placate urban consumers may in ict economic costs on governments, but they confer political benets. And when estimating the relationship between price shocks and political stability, equations that omit the policy response of governments are misspecied.

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Co-author Brett L. Carter is a PhD candidate in the Department of Government at Harvard University.

Africa is largely agrarian and the performance of agriculture shapes the performance of its economies. It has long been argued that economic development in Africa is strongly conditioned by politics. Recent changes in Africa’s political systems enables us to test this argument and, by extension, broader claims about the impact of political institutions on economic development. Building on a recent analysis of total factor productivity growth in African agriculture, we find that the introduction of competitive presidential elections in the last decades of the 20th Century appears to have altered political incentives, resulting in policy reforms that have enhanced the performance of farmers.

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Bates, Robert H., and Steven Block. 2008. “The Political Economy of Agricultural Trade Interventions in Africa”. Abstract

In this chapter, we explore patterns of variation in the content of agricultural policies in Africa. We look at the impact of the government’s need for revenues, the incentives for farmers to lobby, and their capacity to affect electoral outcomes. We also explore the political impact of regional inequality, especially insofar as it is generated by cash crop production. These factors operate in ways that deepen our appreciation of the impact of politics on the making of agricultural policies.

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Bates, Robert H., John H. Coatsworth, and Jeffery G. Williamson. 2006. “Lost Decades: Lessons from Post-Independence Latin America for Today's Africa”. Abstract

Africa and Latin America secured their independence from European colonial rule a century and half apart: most of Latin America after 1820 and most of Africa after 1960. Despite the distance in time and space, they share important similarities. In each case independence was followed by political instability, violent conflict and economic stagnation lasting for about a half-century (lost decades). The parallels suggest that Africa might be exiting from a period of post-imperial collapse and entering a period of relative political stability and economic growth, as did Latin America a century and a half earlier.

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Also NBER Working Paper 12610: