The question of the artificial states has recently been brought up by the referendum in Southern Sudan on whether the southern part of the country should declare political independence from the northern part of the country. An article in New York Times (link) succintly discussed few notable fact-checked evidence of the increasing ethnic, political and economic North-South division within the country. As a single country, Sudan performed terribly in development outcomes. According to CIA World Factbook (link), the country suffers from high rates of extreme poverty and illiteracy. For instance, the official share of population below poverty line is estimated at 40 percent - almost twice the average of North African states. In addition to poor development outcomes, the country is plagued by significant political and ethnic fragmentation into largely Muslim, Arab-speaking north and predominantly Christain, English-speaking south. The political independence of South Sudan is the only contemporary evidence of the re-establishment of land borders alongside the ethnic division.
In the recent paper entitled Artificial States, Alberto Alesina, William Easterly and Janina Matuszeski presented two formal measures of artificial states. Aside from the measure of ethnic division, the authors constructed the measure of straightness of border lines. The hypothesis suggests that squiggly geographic border lines separate the states alongside the ethnic division. On the contrary, straight border lines suggest increase the probability of the emergence of artificial states plagued by ethnic and linguistic fractioning. The authors presented the empirical evidence, suggesting that fractional land borders are highly correlated with the GDP per capita. In addition, the share of ethnically partitioned population within the country is systematically decreasing the GDP per capita in cross-country comparison. The intuitive ideas behind the empirical evidence suggest that at the end of colonial period, colonizers that set straight borderlines between the emerging countries incured significant economic cost to newly formed African countries in terms of lost GDP. The evidence from Alesina-Easterly-Matuszeski study suggest that a 1 percentage point increase in the fraction of country's population belonging to groups partitioned by the border would decrease the GDP per capita by 1.3 percent. On the other hand, countries with squiggly geographic borderlines enjoy significantly higher GDP per capita.
The post-colonial period in Sudan was characterized by two civil wars which outbroke in 1972 and 1983. In 1956, Sudan gained the political independence from Great Britain. Contemporary borderlines were predominantly determined by the colonial authorities in African states prior to the wave of independence of many African nations. The emergence of the artificial states is rather a consequence of poor colonial policies than of high bargaining cost of ethnic groups within the country in setting country borderlines. Hence, the economic effects of colonial legacy can persist over time. Consider the evidence from Cameroon. The country was originally colonized by Germany. During the World War I, Northern Cameroon was occupied by Germany while the rest of the country was colonized by the French. Between 1916 and 1960, the country was a unique experiment of how the establishment of the institutional setting of European countries affects domestic development outcomes. A recent study by Alexander Lee and Kenneth Schultz (link) suggests that in the areas formerly occupied by the British enjoy higher levels of wealth and improved access to clean water while the rest of the rural country, after having been colonized by the French, suffers from significantly hindered access to clean water and worse provision of public goods. Even though the colonial patterns do not apply to urban areas, lessons from Cameroon suggest that the impact of post-independence public policies and colonial legacy on the level of wealth is of the same importance even when linguistic and ethnic fragmentation persists over time.
In spite of considerable degree of inefficiency, the persistence of inefficient and ethnically fragmented states is continuously marked by poor economic and development outcomes, often accompanied by civil-war conflicts such as military violence and genocide by the Sudanese army in Darfur. An interesting theory has been recently put forth by Daron Acemoglu, Davide Ticchi and Andrea Vindigni (link) who suggest that rich political elites seize state capture and democratic politics by expanding the size of bureaucracy. Hence, to gain political support, the coalition of elites chooses an inefficient structure and organization of the state.
The phenomenon of artificial states is not abridged to least-developed countries and developing world. Even in the group of advanced countries, several countries emerged despite a considerable degree of linguistic, ethnic and cultural fractioning within country borders. The evidence from Switzerland suggests that a continuous transition to a peaceful and stable democracy is possible. Amid highly fragmented linguistic and cultural characteristics such as four official languages and the persistence of GDP per capita divergence between high-income German cantons and low-income French cantons, Switzerland is characterized by envious political stability and economic performance. The genuine feature of federal political system is a consistent fiscal decentralization such as jurisdictional competition between units within the federalized structure in various areas such as taxation, regulation, health care etc. Hence, a decentralized fiscal structure and division of powers require a limited federal government and a high degree of autonomy within the federation. Thus, despite a multilingual population, the Swiss model of federalism is marked by political stability, peace and prosperity.
The phenomenon of artificial states in advanced countries is not confined to Switzerland itself. What distinguishes the Swiss model of federalism from centralist political systems in its neighboring countries is a high degree of political autonomy in Swiss cantons. Competition between jurisdictions within the federation nonetheless generates different economic outcomes. However, the outcomes generated by jurisdictional competition preclude adverse effects caused by either state capture of democratic politics or redistributive taxation between jurisdictions. In Switzerland, cantons with favorable public policies such as low tax rates on labor and capital, sound regulation and competitive provision of health care, have enjoyed persistently higher levels of wealth compared to cantons in the rest of the country. Of course, the coexistence of diverse ethnic and lingual groups within the single state requires common values, integrated into formal institutions.
Contrary to common perception, the artificial state may not be characterized exclusively by ethnic and linguistic fragmentation. To a large extent, Germany and Belgium could be classifed as artificial states. In Belgium, Flemmish-speaking north of the country consistently outperformed French-speaking south on various indicators and outcomes, including income per capita, international test scores and employment-to-population ratio. The political and linguistic division of Belgium into high-income Flemmish part and less developed French part reflects the essential dilemma of artificial states - should a single country with fragmented and heterogenous population be abandonded and whether ethnicity borders should represent country borderlines. In fact, linguistic fragmentation of Belgium to the extent that Flemmish and French part of the country adopted different administrative and education systems, led to persistent inability of two majorities to form a government. In 2007, The Economist opined that Belgium should cease to exist. The unification of Germany (Wiedervereinigung) integrated two parts of the country with vastly different institutional setting into a single political unity. However, Eastern and Western Germany were known for completely different political and economic system. The unification has incured many adverse effects. A significant difference in wage and price levels between East Germany and West Germany caused continuous migration of East German labor into West Germany, thus decreasing the productivity growth in East Germany. Consequently, the unification of the country led to the adoption of West Germany level of prices and wages in Eastern part of the new country. The artificial increase in price-wage level increased the unemployment rate in Eastern Germany to double-digit level, not least triggered brain-drain and capital flight. Hence, the unification of Germany as an artificial state resulted in persistent income per capita divergence between high-income West Germany and low-income East Germany. The unification of Germany into a single country should indeed never happen. In fact, adverse effects of the unification on East German productivity and wages would not lead to continuous increase in unemployment rate. If East Germany maintained a high degree of political autonomy, the transition to market economy would not be restrained by the adoption of West German price-wage level that could not be sustained by low productivity level in East Germany. To avoid the pitfalls of the artificial states, West and East Germany would be better off, had the countries never been reunified.
Recent national referendum in South Sudan on whether the southern part of the country should declare political independence from Sudan again pondered over the persistence of artificial states. The empirical evidence on poor development outcomes in several African countries suggests that borderlines, disregarding the ethnic distribution of the population within the country, are highly correlated with low income per capita. The unique solution of the artificial states is the adoption of political federalism. Under fiscal decentralization and limited government, federalism enables peaceful and prosperous existence of fragmented ethnic and linguistic structure in a single state. For instance, former Yugoslavia, known for highly fragmented ethnic, linguistic and economic disparities, ceased to exist not because federalism would not be a genuine political system but, ultimately, because of severe economic mismanagement, powerful and centralized government that disdained the principles of political autonomy and market economy, causing severe hyperinflation and the collapse of the federation that eventually resulted in a decade of civil wars and military violence. The evidence from Yugoslavia suggests that between 1950 and 1990, drastic economic divergence occured. The lesson suggests that the essential condition for the efficiency of federalism as a political system is high political autonomy and fiscal decentralization, both of which enable the competition between public policies.
Amid linguistic fragmentation, the competition between jurisidictions rewards competitive public policies by higher income per capita which ultimately boost the inception of public policies in less developed parts of the federation. Hence, without jurisdictional competition and political autonomy, ethnic and linguistic fragmention of the country may ultimately result in political instability which, in addition, generates poor economic outcomes.