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Geography, Transparency, and Institutions



We propose a theory in which geographic attributes explain cross-regional institutional differences in (1) the scale of the state, (2) the distribution of power within state hierarchy, and (3) property rights to land. In this theory, geography and technology affect the transparency of farming, and transparency, in turn, affects the elite’s ability to appropriate revenue from the farming sector, thus affecting institutions. We apply the theory to explain differences between the institutions of ancient Egypt, southern Mesopotamia, and northern Mesopotamia, and also discuss its relevance to modern phenomena.


Corresponding author

Joram Mayshar, Department of Economics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Mayshar’s research was supported in part by the Falk Institute for Economic Research in Israel. Address: Mt. Scopus. Jerusalem 9190501, Israel (
Omer Moav, Department of Economics, University of Warwick; School of Economics, Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya; CAGE and CEPR. Moav’s research is supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant 73/11). Address: Department of Economics, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, United Kingdom (
Zvika Neeman, Eitan Berglas School of Economics, Tel-Aviv University. Address: Ramat Aviv 6997801, Israel (


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We have benefited from comments from Daron Acemoglu, Bob Allen, Josh Angrist, Ernesto Dal Bo, Eddie Dekel, Diana Egerton-Warburton, Christopher Eyre, James Fenske, Oded Galor, Maitreesh Ghatack, Jeremy Greenwood, Avner Greif, James Malcomson, Andrea Matranga, Jacob Metzer, Stelios Michalopoulos, Motty Perry, Torsten Persson, Herakles Polemarchakis, Louis Putterman, Debraj Ray, Ariel Rubinstein, Yona Rubinstein, Larry Samuelson, Matthew Spigelman, Yannay Spitzer, Nathan Sussman, Juuso Valimaki, Joachim Voth, and David Weil, and from comments from participants in various seminars and conferences.



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Geography, Transparency, and Institutions



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