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Anatomy of a Premodern State

Leonor Freire Costa, António Henriques and Nuno Palma

Economics Discussion Paper Series from Economics, The University of Manchester

Abstract: We provide a blueprint for the construction of historical state capacity measures for premodern states, which has several advantages over the state of the art. First, we argue that nominal GDP is the best deflator for state revenues. Second, expenditure patterns have to be considered in order to assess changing state capacity. Third, we argue that local-level revenues matter when establishing state capacity, even if their overall contribution appears small. As an application, we tackle the controversial case of Portugal (1367–1844) and show that the country had a relatively high comparative fiscal capacity and its state capacity increased over time as military expenses rose, whereas redistribution favoring the elites and the royal household decreased. This means that state capacity was not an issue in Portugal’s dismal economic performance.

Keywords: state capacity; fiscal capacity; premodern economic growth; Portugal (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: H20 N43 O23 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022-10
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-his
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