Arnold Kling  

Fragmentation of States

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Eric Posner writes,


People should be more worried than they are by the fragmentation of states. . .in recent years, the main cause has been, essentially, ethnic separatism. . .the resulting nation states can be too small to govern themselves – Kosovo is an example, again. They either become failed states, magnets for terrorists and drug smugglers, or wards of powerful states or what is mischievously called the “international community.”

I want to believe that more fragmentation would be a good thing. To an economist, having more suppliers means more competition and more choice. The key here is choice. If people have sufficient choice about where to live, then I would hope that this would lead to better governance.

Of course, if people choose mainly on the basis of ethnic identity, then a government that satisfies the desire for ethnic solidarity or ethnic dominance has a lot of freedom to govern badly without losing power. In that case, a multi-ethnic state will put more pressure on government to govern well.


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (12 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

Arnold writes:

"In that case, a multi-ethnic state will put more pressure on government to govern well.'

So that's why Finland and Norway are so badly governed!

The reality is closer to the opposite. Major ethnic divisions mean that voters choose not on the basis of which politician is most honest and effective, but on the basis of ethnicity. In a monoethnic nation-state, in contrast, ethnicity becomes irrelevant in voting.

Yes, so if we just move all of the non-whites out of the United States, Steve Sailer will be as happy as a clam.

Matt writes:

We would expect a global economy to be good if it produces a smooth (and wide) spread of goods and services.

We would also expect a smooth distribution of suppliers to also be good for the same reason.

However, I think we will find viable suppliers can exist only if their wealth function is somewhat close to the aggregate wealth function, (their yield curve is close enough to the aggregate that investment dollars are not haphazardly placed).

There is the contradiction, there is a minimum wealth mass needed to get output perform with some regularity.

Bisaal writes:

Choice is exactly what is lacking here. A Serb does not have a choice-he is going to be killed in Kosovo.
Was post-1918 Central Europe any improvement over Hapsburg?

I think most people are happier in same ethnic, same religious enclaves, state, neighborhood, etc. BUT some are not. We should probably make it as easy as possible for the population to sort out in this way. I'll be in the cosmopolitan megacities, but I won't begrudge others their homogeneous communities.

Les writes:

All one has to do is to ask whether China and Russia are better governed than Singapore or Zimbabwe. It raises considerable doubt whether size is much of a factor in good government.

It seems that its the relative size of the government sector that matters, rather than the size of the nation. I'm with Thomas Jefferson: "That government is best that governs the least."

Nate writes:

Whether or not Fragmentation produces better-run governments depends on the lack of obstacles in that “market for governments”. Here the obstacle is the cost of moving from one country to another. If movement is limited by immigration policy, language barriers and what have you the “market for governments” will not be able to produce the optimally efficient outcome.

As for the ethnic solidarity comment,
Are you saying that if a government meets some over-arching, peripheral need that people will be more likely satisfied by poor levels of governance?
In the case you mentioned, that would be ethnic solidarity. If the government provides the ethnic solidarity, then citizens will be satisfied.
Could that also be the assumption of democracy? If a government provides the sense of control, then its citizens would be satisfied and tolerate poor policies?

Horatio writes:
In that case, a multi-ethnic state will put more pressure on government to govern well.

The multi-ethnic states of Western Europe seem to have better governments than those that are closer to being mono-ethnic. Luxembourg, Switzerland, Monaco and Andorra seem to have the best governments in all of Europe. Compared to other large Western nations, the U.S. has the best government and we are also more multi-ethnic. Singapore is more multi-ethnic than any other primarily East Asian nations and it also has a relatively good government.

Adam writes:

"If people have sufficient choice about where to live, then I would hope that this would lead to better governance."

This statement makes perfect sense; it just makes little sense to apply it to the Balkans. In an area where countries have been formed of late to decrease interaction with other ethnic groups it seems unlikely that people will "vote with their feet."

Even in situations of seemingly shared culture and language, political tensions can be a strong force preventing migration. For instance Akerlof, et. al (1991) argue, in "East Germany in from the Cold" that after reunification that East Germans, who had better job opportunities in the west, were often resistant to move. This example is among a group of people who had not just been in violent conflict with each other.

Unified, federal governments may well present a better alternative to fragmented states. The US remains highly mobile, (Pingle, A Note on Measuring Internal Migration in the United States, 2006) and, dispite the initial German experience, EU integration has lead to more mobility. Yet differences in state or national governments allow for some flexibility in governance options.

Max writes:

Again it is more about he how than the transition per se. You can see several "minimalist" states with a small land area and they cope quite well:

- Montenegro
- Swiss
- Luxembourg
- Liechtenstein
- Monaco

The problem with citing "Kosovo" is that it is recent and it is still a contested region with especially the pro-Serbia and Russian fractions that don't accept the decision.

Sorry, but it is not the best example against fragmentation (f.e. Croatia and Serbia though much smaller than Romania and Bulgary or France, cope well. Which size is then preferable? When does fragmentation hurt and when not?
Does fragmantation end with a one-world-unity-government. And is it any more stable?!
Was Yugoslavia stable once dictatorships ended?

Plus, it doesn't need a "smal country" to be a smuggler state:

- Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Columbia etc...

Not convincing...

8 writes:

A multi-ethnic authoritarian government has more pressure to govern well. A multi-ethnic democracy will represent whatever the people want.

If culture plays a part in societal success, ethnic fragmentation will widen the gap between successful and unsuccessful cultures. Better governance will come from fragmentation within an ethnic group, such as a multi-state Chinese empire, German principalities, Italian city states, or the United States.

Arnold Kling writes:

Nate,
I think that democracies might indeed not have the incentive to govern well. This is particularly true if the people can be induced to worship their government, and if people have a hard time figuring out what is good government and what is not.

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