Tawney Lecture 2011: Debt, Default and Empire: State Capacity and Economic Development in England and Spain in the Early Modern Period
Authors/Speakers/Subjects: Joachim Voth
Published Date: 05 Sep 2011
Duration: 56 minutes, 47 seconds
Why did the British Empire succeed where the Spanish one failed? Both ruled vast territories, controlled enormous resources, and fielded great armies. Differences in the quality of initial institutions, Atlantic trade, and the Spanish government’s bankruptcies have often been held responsible for divergent trajectories. This lecture shows why the empirical basis for these claims is weak. What mattered instead was the ability to raise “state capacity” – to centralize financial administration, assert a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, and unify the legal system. The pressures of war led to increasing divergence. Territorial, constitutional, linguistic and cultural differences severely curtailed the ability of Spanish monarchs to modernize and centralize. In contrast, the grand institutional bargain of 1688 in Britain allowed a much stronger state to emerge.