Minding Weber more than ever? The impacts of State Capacity and Bureaucratic Autonomy on development goals

Luciana Cingolani, Kaj Thomsson & Denis de Crombrugghe


The notion of state capacity has attracted renewed interest over the last few years, in particular in the study of violent conflict. Yet, state capacity is conceived differently depending on whether the interest lies in the state's power to discourage violent conflict, in its ability to administer efficiently, or simply in its capacity to foster economic development. In this article, we examine the links between state capacity and bureaucratic autonomy, and discuss the conditions under which these converge or differ. Using panel data over 1990-2010 and a novel indicator of bureaucratic autonomy, we then estimate the separate effect of state capacity and bureaucratic autonomy on two of the MDGs indicators: child mortality and the prevalence of tuberculosis. The evidence suggests that a) bureaucratic autonomy has a stronger impact than commonly used measures of state capacity; and b) both bureaucratic autonomy plays a more important role for these indicators than traditional macroeconomic variables.

Keywords: state capacity - institutions - bureaucracies - millennium development goals - child mortality - tuberculosis

JEL classification: I38 D73 O43 O50