Both students and practitioners of Indian politics are aware that political institutions operate more effectively in some parts of the country than in others. The most obvious, and frequently studied, aspect of this variation is the failure of the government to provide basic services and public goods—roads, schools, electricity--to its citizens. One can, however, observe other types of institutional failure, such as the inability to provide security and contract enforcement, or the failure to control local level agents evidenced by corruption. These failures of the state have obvious linkages to the persistence of a wide range of social problems, and more subtle linkages to more diffuse conditions like social conflict and low rates of economic growth (Deaton and Dreze 2002, Ghosh and De 2004.) While the contrast between high and low provision areas is especially striking in the Indian context, both within other countries and within the world as a whole there are also dramatic variation both in the quality and the quantity of public goods and in institutional outcomes more generally. The question then, is what causes this variation?
Alex Lee is a PhD Sudent in the Political Science Department at Stanford.