Powerful pacifists: Democratic states and war

TitlePowerful pacifists: Democratic states and war
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsLake, DA

I. A Theory of the Rent-Seeking State and Foreign Policy:

Stimulating by the pioneering work of Lane (1979), the microeconomic theory of the state conceives of the state as a profit-maximizing firm that trades services for revenues. I define profit here as the difference between revenues acquired by the state and its real costs of producing services and collecting revenue. Foremost among the services provies by the state is protection. The two aspects of the protection service, local monopoly and coercive supply, are consonant with Weber's classic definition of the state as a "compulsory organization with a territorial basis" that monopolizes the legitimate use of the force.

A. The Demand and Supply of Protection

The level of protection demanded by society is primarily a function of the level of external threat. The level of protection supplied by the monopoly state will always be less than that produced under the conditions more closely approximating "pure competition". Insecurity is an inherent feature of life under the modern state. The state also faces strong incentives to seek rents at the expense of society.

B. Societal Constrains on State Rent Seeking

Society's ability to control the state is influenced by the costs of three separate activities: monitoring state behavior, voice, and exit. States will charge up to but not more than the price at which individuals would be tempted either to exit or remove state officials from power.

C. Expansion and the Rent-seeking State

The higher the costs to society of controlling the state, the greater will be the rent-seeking ability of the state, the more the interests of state and society will diverge, and the more expansionist the state will become. This is called 'Imperialist Bias'.

II The Propensity for War

Levy (1989) writes:

(1) the evidence shows that the proportional frequency of war involvement of democratic states has not been greater than that for nondemocratic states
(2) democracies may be slightly less likely than nondemocracies to initiate wars, but the evidence is not conclusive
(3) although democracies have fought wars as frequently as nondemocratic states, they almost never fight each other... this absence of war between democratic states comes as close as anything we have to an empirical law in international relations. This pattern is inconsistent with prevailing theories of IR.

Alt. Theory:

1. Democratic states will tend to be less expansionist than autocratic states. The larger the rent-earning ability of the state, the greater the optimal size of the territorial unit, and the greater the incentives for the state to try to reach this optimal size. Democracies constrains the ability of the state to extract monopoly rents at society's expense
2. Democracies will often be the object of expansion by autocratic states. By eliminating democracies, autocrats can reduce the gains from and incentives for emigration and solidity and reinforce their rent-earning abilities.
3. Democracies will expand only when the initial costs of conquest and ongoing costs of rule are less than the discounted present value of future economic profits.

III. Propensity for Victory

To the extent that democratic states earn fewer rents, it follows that they tend (1) to create fewer economic distortions and have greater natural wealth and devote more resources to security (2) enjoy greater societal support for their policies and therefore a greater extractive capacity, and (3) to form overwhelming countercoalitions against expansionist autocracies.