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When Things Fell Apart: State Failure in Late-Century Africa
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When Things Fell Apart: State Failure in Late-Century Africa

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  99 ratings  ·  8 reviews
In the later decades of the 20th century, Africa plunged into political chaos. States failed, governments became predators, and citizens took up arms. In When Things Fell Apart, Robert H. Bates advances an explanation of state failure in Africa. In so doing, he not only plumbs the depths of the continent's late-century tragedy, but also the logic of political order and the ...more
Hardcover, 191 pages
Published January 1st 2008 by Cambridge University Press
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Like Collier's Greed and Grievance and Fearon and Laitin's work on conflict, Bates does his own academic weightlifting on the interplay between politics and violence, taking into account key topics like ethnicity, democracy, resource wealth and poverty and their connection to political violence. He claims to be looking at the relationship between political disorder, but that's not terribly different. While Collier focuses on world wide data, Bates focuses on a strictly African dataset. It seems ...more
Game theoretic exploration of the sub title: "Rather than probing the motives of rebels or the nature of their organizations, I instead ask: Why would governments adopt policies that impoverish their citizens? Why would they “overextract” wealth from their domains? Why would they alter the distribution of income so grossly that it would become politically unsustainable? By addressing such questions, I explored the ways in which incumbent regimes prepared the field for the forces of political dis ...more
Dylan Groves
exceedingly clear.

three takeaways:

1 - the core explanation of deteriorating public order in 1990's africa concerns the choice of political elites to protect wealth creation or predate, based on the perceived gains of each and elites' discount rate

2 - increased political competition may spark a decline in political order because political elites increase their discount rate when they perceive an increased likelihood of leaving office. this process is probably inevitable and worthwhile in the long
It can be argued that Bates' synthesis of his data and his proposed conclusions are too simplistic. In many ways I agree with this critique. However, I do think Bates provides helpful insight in looking at how political choices at the top have led to Africa's "failed" states, rather than focusing on the typical Marxist from below view of rebels. Bates offers helpful and thoughtful insight. A worthwhile read for anyone studying Africa.
Derrill Watson
I'm using this in my public choice class. The first two chapters set up the main principals and the others provide some reasonably supportive evidence. That later narrative jumps around a good deal, so it's hard to know where reality diverges from his theory.
"[T]he possibility of political order rests on the value of three variables: the level of public revenues, the reward from predation, and the specialist's [in violence] rate of discount." (20)
Concise (unlike James Scott's Seeing Like a State), logical, and clear.
A bit too technical for my liking
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