A Positive Theory of the Predatory State

Mehrdad Vahabi (University Paris 8)

Abstract: While the distinction between public and private goods is essential in developing a normative theory of non-predatory states, the focus of this paper is on a positive theory of predatory states. Since the predatory relationship between the state and its subjects depends on the power of the state to grab or to appropriate coercively and the subject’s ability to escape or hide, the boundaries of the state are decided by the nature of the assets that can be taken more or less easily. Accordingly, I will introduce a new distinction between captive and fugitive assets that positively captures the frontiers of a state space. The US railroading in the nineteenth century provides an illustration regarding the explanatory power of an asset-appropriating perspective of the state compared to a public goods approach.

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