In his book "Why the West Rules -- for Now," historian Ian Morris draws a distinction between two ways of running a country, calling them "high-end" and "low-end" strategies. High-end states have efficient, centralized bureaucracies and a credible legal apparatus. Low-end states rely on local authorities to do things like collecting taxes and providing security.
High-end states are better at creating rich, powerful, technologically advanced civilizations but are more expensive, Morris writes: When resources are strained, countries sometimes revert to the cheaper, low-end solutions. Often, transitions from high-end to low-end strategies follow wars, famines and other disasters that reduce the state's ability to finance its activities directly.
Modern rich nations, with their extensive court systems, bureaucracies, militaries and infrastructure, look distinctly high-end compared with the feudal lands of past centuries. But I see troubling signs of a U.S. shift toward low-end institutions.