The Origin of the State: Land Productivity or Appropriability?

Recognition Program

Authors: Joram Mayshar, Omer Moav and Luigi Pascali

Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 130, No 4, 1091 – 1144, April, 2022

The conventional theory about the origin of the state is that the adoption of farming led to an increase in productivity, which led to food surplus. Food surplus is held to be a prerequisite for the emergence of hierarchical societies and eventually states. We challenge this theory and propose that hierarchy arose due to the shift to dependence on appropriable cereal grains. Our empirical investigation, utilizing multiple data sets spanning several millennia, demonstrates a causal effect of the cultivation of cereals on hierarchy, without finding a similar effect for land productivity. We present several case studies that further support our claims.

This paper originally appeared as Barcelona School of Economics Working Paper 842
This paper is acknowledged by the Barcelona School of Economics Recognition Program