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The economics of violence in natural states

van Besouw, Bram and Ansink, Erik and van Bavel, Bas (2016): The economics of violence in natural states.

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Abstract

Violence is key to understanding human interaction and societal development. The natural state of societal organization is that a subset of the population, capable of mustering organized large-scale violence, forms an elite coalition that restrains both violence and coercive appropriation. We highlight key mechanisms underlying such natural states using insights from the economic literature on conflict and appropriation. Our results show large variations in elite size, appropriation, production levels, and welfare across natural states due to only minor variations in exogenous model parameters. Specifically, unproductive societies tend to have a large elite coalition and a high tax rate. Only when the elite coalition is small (which occurs in societies with high productivity) but still able to control a sizeable share of production, can societies prosper in a natural state.

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