Cornell University

Joint Labor & Public Economics Workshop: Edoardo Teso

Wednesday, May 8, 2024 at 11:40am to 12:55pm

ILR Conference Center, 229

Edoardo Teso, Northwestern

State Capacity as an Organizational Problem. Evidence from the Growth of the U.S. State Over 100 Years

Abstract:  We study how the organization of the state evolves over the process of development of a nation, using a new dataset on the internal organization of the U.S. federal bureaucracy over 1817-1905. First, we show a series of novel facts, describing how the size of the state, its presence across the territory, and its key organizational features evolved over the nineteenth century. Second, exploiting the staggered expansion of the railroad and telegraph networks across space, we show that the ability of politicians to monitor state agents throughout the territory is an important driver of these facts: locations with lower transportation and communication costs with Washington DC have more state presence, are delegated more decision power, and have lower employee turnover. The results suggest that high monitoring costs are associated with small, personalistic state organizations based on networks of trust; technological innovations lowering monitoring costs facilitate the emergence of modern bureaucratic states.

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Event Type

Seminar, Class/ Workshop




economics, ILR, ILR School, EconSeminar, EconPublic, EconLabor

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Contact Name

Robin Tilling


Edoardo Teso

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Cornell Economics Community (Listserv Members)