This project seeks to address a fundamental question of state formation: How can weak and fragile states become strong in the absence of the capacity to tax? We test one possible answer: providing justice and resolving disputes. While policymakers and economists have often focused on the power to tax, the historical record suggests that dispute resolution may provide a useful first step in building strong states that are able to deliver goods and services for their citizens. We will provide experimental evidence about how to build state capacity and legitimacy in fragile post-conflict settings as well as how different types of approaches to dispute resolution contribute to this goal. In particular, we examine the effectiveness of state and non-state approaches to justice provision. Examining these issues will advance knowledge in the fields of political economy and development economics, with key implications for welfare. Our collaboration with local government and an NGO strengthen the partnership between academia, civil society, and government and is itself a direct example of evidence-based policymaking.
To this end, we examine the randomized rollout of a legal capacity building program implemented at scale in the target city by the Ministry of Justice and a local NGO. This program has (1) a "punitive" legal capacity building arm in which state lawyers serve as neighborhood legal representatives with subsidized services, and (2) a "restorative" legal capacity building arm in which a neighborhood leader performs these same functions. Our goal is to empirically examine the effects of this program on property rights security, crime, violence, and citizens' willingness to pay taxes for the formal state. Doing so will enhance our understanding of how strong states can emerge when the capacity to tax their citizens is low to begin with: by taking the legal -- not fiscal -- path to state capacity, i.e., providing greater access to justice and resolving disputes effectively and fairly. Furthermore, the experimental treatment arms are grounded in different notions of justice which, in the context of many developing countries around the world, often exist side by side: punitive justice involving the coercive power of the state and restorative justice involving traditional authorities and deep-seated community norms around mending the community. This allows us to examine potential complementarities between formal and informal institutions of justice in building strong states.