The Size of Nations

The Size of Nations

By Alberto Alesina and Enrico Spolaore





The authors of this timely and provocative book use the tools of economic analysis to examine the formation and change of political borders. They argue that while these issues have always been at the core of historical analysis, international economists have tended to regard the size of a country as "exogenous," or no more subject to explanation than the location of a mountain range or the course of a river. Alesina and Spolaore consider a country's borders to be subject to the same analysis as any other man-made institution. In The Size of Nations, they argue that the optimal size of a country is determined by a cost-benefit trade-off between the benefits of size and the costs of heterogeneity. In a large country, per capita costs may be low, but the heterogeneous preferences of a large population make it hard to deliver services and formulate policy. Smaller countries may find it easier to respond to citizen preferences in a democratic way. Alesina and Spolaore substantiate their analysis with simple analytical models that show how the patterns of globalization, international conflict, and democratization of the last two hundred years can explain patterns of state formation. Their aim is not only "normative" but also "positive"—that is, not only to compute the optimal size of a state in theory but also to explain the phenomenon of country size in reality. They argue that the complexity of real world conditions does not preclude a systematic analysis, and that such an analysis, synthesizing economics, political science, and history, can help us understand real world events.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262012041 272 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 13 illus.


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262511872 272 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 13 illus.


  • This book is a tour de force...

    Leonard Dudley


  • This intriguing study by two political economists seeks to discover an economic logic behind the size of nations.

    Foreign Affairs


  • In this superb and pathbreaking monograph, Alesina and Spolaore convincingly apply the tools of economics to show how economic and political forces influence the breakup and integration of nations in an evolving world. This is a new domain of analysis that will be of utmost importance in the twenty-first century.

    Gérard Roland

    Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley

  • There are now almost two hundred nations, a number that has more than doubled in the last sixty years. There are likely to be some economies of scale, and country size provides political weight in world affairs, but governments of smaller countries are probably better able to see and provide what their citizens want. Alesina and Spolaore use a number of crisp and clear theoretical models to show how these trade-offs might be played out, in a variety of voting processes, to produce an equilibrium distribution of country sizes. the important and imaginative book blazes trails that many others will follow.

    John f. Helliwell

    Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of British Columbia

  • The Size of Nations exemplifies the best of political economy. It makes simple but incisive arguments about a large, complex, and multifaceted set of phenomena, and then tests these arguments using the best available techniques. The result is a breathtaking combination of analytic acuity and real world importance. The claim that the confluence of globalization, democratization, and the end of the cold war was the perfect incubator for the explosion of nation states in the 1990s is arrestingly powerful. The Size of Nations will long be admired and studied in the social sciences; it will also stimulate considerable debate and further research on its fascinating subject matter.

    Geoffrey Garrett

    Vice Provost of the International Institute and Professor of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles

  • This is an extraordinary book that provides a rigourous, fun, and highly original view of what determines the number and size of countries. A must-read for all scholars in the fields of public economics, international economics and international relations.

    Jaume Ventura

    CREI and Universitat Pompeu Fabra