Going postal: State capacity and violent dispute resolution

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Scholars have long tried to understand the conditions under which actors choose to use violent versus non-violent means to settle disputes, and many argue that violence is more likely in weakly-institutionalized settings. Yet, there is little evidence showing that increases in state capacity lowers the use of violent informal institutions to resolve disputes. Utilizing a novel dataset of violence—specifically, duels—across American states in the 19th century, we use the spread of federal post offices as an identification strategy to investigate the importance of state capacity for the incidence of violent dispute resolution. We find that post office density is a strong, consistent, and negative predictor of dueling behavior. Our evidence contributes to a burgeoning literature on the importance of state capacity for development outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)779-796
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Comparative Economics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Dispute resolution
  • Informal institutions
  • Political economy
  • State capacity
  • Violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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