Sea Power

August, 2021

How does sea power differ from land power? We introduce a formal model that explains several characteristics of sea power. Specifically, (i) sea power is more highly concentrated than land power; (ii) it follows cycles; and (iii) is characterized by periodic intensification of arms competition. We account for these features in terms of the high fixed costs and the capital-intensive nature of naval warfare. We find empirical support for our model using a newly digitized dataset of over two dozen navies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Geopolitics and Asias Little Divergence

November, 2018

We provide a new framework to account for the diverging paths of political development in China and Japan during the late nineteenth century. The arrival of Western powers not only brought opportunities to adopt new technologies, but also fundamentally threatened the sovereignty of both countries. These threats and opportunities produce an unambiguous impetus toward centralization and modernization for small states, but place conflicting demands on larger states. We use our theory to study why China, which had been centralized for much of its history, experienced gradual disintegration upon the Western arrival, and how Japan rapidly unified and modernized.

Unified China and Divided Europe

November, 2017

This article studies the causes and consequences of political centralization and fragmentation in China and Europe. We argue that a severe and unidirectional threat of external invasion fostered centralization in China, whereas Europe faced a wider variety of smaller external threats and remained fragmented. Political centralization in China led to lower taxation and hence faster population growth during peacetime compared to Europe. But it also meant that China was more vulnerable to occasional negative population shocks. Our results are consistent with historical evidence of warfare, capital city location, tax levels, and population growth in both China and Europe.

Geopolitics and Asia's Little Divergence

October 28, 2015

We provide a new framework to account for the diverging paths of political development and state building in China and Japan during the second half of the nineteenth century. The arrival of Western powers not only brought opportunities to adopt new technologies, but also fundamentally threatened the national sovereignty of both Qing China and Tokugawa Japan. We argue that these threats produce an unambiguous tendency toward centralization and modernization for small states, but place conflicting demands on geographically larger states. We use our theory to study why China, which had been centralized for much of its history, experienced gradual disintegration upon the Western arrival, and how Japan, which had been politically fragmented for centuries, rapidly unified and modernized during the same period. To further demonstrate its validity, we also apply our model to other historical episodes of state building, such as the unification of Anglo-Saxon England in the tenth century and the rise of Muscovy during the fifteenth century.

Unified China and Divided Europe

December 5, 2014

This paper studies the persistence and consequences of political centralization and fragmentation in China and Europe. We argue that the severe and unidirectional threat of external invasion fostered political centralization in China while Europe faced a wider variety of external threats and remained politically fragmented. Our model allows us to explore the economic consequences of political centralization and fragmentation. Political centralization in China led to lower taxation and hence faster population growth during peacetime than in Europe. But it also meant that China was relatively fragile in the event of an external invasion. We argue that the greater volatility in population growth during the Malthusian era in China can help explain the divergence in economic development that had opened up between China and Europe at the onset of the Industrial Revolution.