Robert H. Bates

Eaton Professor of the Science of government at Harvard University

The Political Roots of Prosperity: The domestication of Coercion in the Modern World
Ethnicity, Violence, and Poverty in Africa

Robert H. Bates has transformed the study of political development. Bringing the tools of economics and deductive reasoning to the explanation of political phenomena, Bates has revolutionized our understanding of the political economy of developing countries.

Currently the Eaton Professor of the Science of government at Harvard University, Bates has studied and provided consulting assistance in governmental reform, economic policy reform, and political economy in many countries throughout the world. He has worked in Zambia, the Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Colombia, and Brazil. Bates has focused much of his work on East and West Africa and has published widely on issues of public policy, agricultural policy, and economic policy reform in these regions. He has previously held appointments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, Duke University, Stanford University, and the University of Nairobi, Kenya. Bates holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Bates's substantive and theoretical innovations have helped to change the study of politics and economics of the developing world. In his early work, Bates established the importance of politics to the livelihoods of Africa's rural poor. In Unions, Parties, and Political Development, Rural Responses to Industrialization, and Agricultural Development in Africa: Issues of Public Policy, Bates argued that political institutions fundamentally shaped the trajectory of African development.

Bates's path-breaking book, States and Markets in Tropical Africa: The Political Basis of Agricultural Policy, destroyed the myth that monopoly control of the agricultural sector by the state was a necessary feature of development. Applying economic reasoning to political phenomena, Bates showed how governments skew markets for their political advantage, even at the cost of an impoverished citizenry.

Lest his work be confused with that of neoclassical economists, Bates's next two booksEssays on the Political Economy of Rural Africa, and Beyond the Miracle of the Market: The Political Economy of Agrarian Development in Kenya, examined how political institutions, as opposed to markets, channel competing private interests into collective social outcomes. Since these political institutions can retard or promote economic development, Bates argues that politics be studied alongside economics; each is necessary to understand the other.

In his most recent book, Open Economy Politics: The Politics and Economics of the International Coffee Market, Bates unravels the political economy of coffee. As the second most valuable commodity traded in the world, coffee has helped to make and break governments and economies. Using his trademark theoretical rigor and elegance, Bates reveals a complex mix of international and domestic institutions that have shaped the development of Brazil and Columbia and structured the international coffee trade.

Bates's approaches to research have caused considerable controversy. Some economists argue against the central role Bates gives to governments, and assert the primacy of the market in all settings. Some area studies specialists critique Bates's attempts to create more general theory. And some political scientists are uncomfortable with his use of deductive logic. These debates reveal the central role Bates plays in improving the social sciences.

Throughout his career, Bates has maintained a commitment to the development of a more rigorous social science, a more inclusive theoretical approach, and a more promising future for the peoples of developing countries.