Resource revenues and state formation

By Onno Blom

In “War and State in Africa’ Herbst argues that much of the lack of state formation in Africa can be contributed to lack of warfare in the past. He finds that war allows the state to collect significantly more taxes with greater efficiency and less public resistance, and that war is the only thing that forces governments to do so. The formation of a strong state, with inclusive institutions based upon taxing, will thus only emerge in foresight of warfare. Herbst concludes that because there has never been large scale interstate warfare in Africa, state formation has lagged behind.

Although the mechanisms that Herbst poses might have worked in Europe, they certainly will not act in the same way in most of contemporary Africa. The main reason for this is Africa’s comparative high dependency on natural resources. For example, government revenues are made up of resource exploitation for 90% for Equatorial Guinea, and 80% for Congo, Angola, Nigeria and Chad. Unfortunately, if most revenue comes from resources, governments would likely get their funding for war from those institutions as well: these sectors have large vested interests which the government takes into account. Moreover, a marginal increase in a large sector provides the same benefits as a large increase in a small sector, while an increase in exploitation of natural resources is easier to realize than setting up inclusive institutions based upon taxation, especially for a government with expertise in the first. Thus, after and during the war, only extractive institutions are created and the state continues to be weak: a state reliant upon the power of its resources instead of taxation of its people does not act in the interest of its population, and this creates institutions which slow down development. 

Marx’s theory of history through the scope of structural determinism

By Onno Blom

Structural determination is a causal process with an inevitable, determined, outcome. This process, once started, can fluctuate in all kinds of directions, but will always have to end with a particular outcome, as this outcome is irreversible and does not lead to anything else. This outcome can be caused by other causes, which may also be irreversible. A telling example of a famous theory which can be seen through the scope of structural determinism is Marx’s theory of history.

Marx divides history into six stages: primitive communism, slave society, feudalism, capitalism, socialism and pure communism. In his theory, Marx finds that all of these stages necessarily lead to each other. All of these stages fall short in some way or another, often because of exploitation of the lowest class, and therefore, through revolutions and development led by the lowest class, this evolution of stages will naturally occur. Marx didn’t specify how long this would take, but he did state that all of this is a historical necessity: “the conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”

Marx believed that once the stage of primitive communism had begun, his theory of history would always occur. We can identify this stage as the beginning in the structurally determined process: it triggers the process to start. The four stages following the start can be seen as the part where (irreversible) causes show up, each necessarily showing up sooner or later, and leading to the next stage of the process. The last stage of the process is pure communism and does not lead to anything else; it was the determined outcome since primitive communism began. It seems that through a Marxist view, structural determinism is not only a helpful analytical tool, but also a predictor of the future.  

Why basic income policy is implemented precisely now

By Onno Blom

The first appearance of the idea of a basic income can be traced back to the enlightened thinkers of the 18th century, but was introduced to the Western world most successfully in the 20th century by Milton Friedman. What Friedman proposed as a “negative income tax”, the idea of giving people unrestricted subsidy, has been ignored for most of history when it comes to policy. Interestingly, recently politicians have started giving in and momentarily 28 municipalities are experimenting with basic income. What factors can explain the current policy adaptation and why did it take so long?

Although the idea of basic income has been around for long, the popularity of it fluctuates. If we look at when the discussion on basic income increased, we see that this was particularly during times of recession. For example, during the 1980’s many politicians proposed social welfare based on a basic income, but large scale policy was never implemented due to lack of support. Comparably, the current rise in popularity started in 2013, when the consequences of the 2008 crisis were strongly felt.

Even when policy ideas are present and support is sufficient, implementation can sometimes lag behind. Pierson ascribes this to the “opacity of politics”: what the voters want is not always clear for politicians, and voting is only sporadically used. This means that even if their might have been public support for the idea of a basic income before 2013, politicians were simply not aware of it. It took a long list of publications and quite some media attention for left-wing parties to realize that there was major backing, on which they could respond to ensure political capital. A combination of both the fluctuation of popularity and opacity can explain why policy has lagged behind for many years, but is now catching up.