Could foreign rule affect the state’s institutional development at the national, regional, and local level differently? Despite numerous studies on the long-term impact of colonialism and imperialism (e.g., Heller et al. 2009; Waldner et al. 2017; Yom 2011; Wibbels 2009),Footnote 1 neither systematic theory nor empirical test to explain possible divergence in the effects of foreign rule along the administrative hierarchy exist. This is surprising because previous studies have examined the legacies of empires in a vast array of dimensions, including political-economic structures (Acemoglu et al. 2001, 2002; Lankina and Getachew 2012; Lankina and Libman 2019; Nathan 2019; Paine 2019), legal systems (Acemoglu et al. 2011; La Porta et al. 1997; Mendelski and Libman 2014), the provision of public goods (Di Liberto and Sideri 2015; Guardado 2018; Lee and Schultz 2012), and public administration/state authority (Becker et al. 2016; Lange 2004; Pierskalla et al. 2017).Footnote 2

The analysis of how administrative institutions in particular are affected by external factors is of special relevance to scholars of comparative and international political economy (CPE and IPE) for two reasons: First, these institutions determine the government’s capacity to both coerce citizens and promote economic growth (Grundholm and Thorsen 2019; Hanson 2014; Mann 2008; Mattingly 2020; Slater 2008; Soifer 2013; Vogler 2023, forthcoming; Vu 2007). Second, while there are many contributions on (1) how bureaucratic design at the national level affects foreign policy (e.g., Arel-Bundock et al. 2015) and (2) how international agencies exercise administrative oversight (e.g., Grigorescu 2010), there is a noticeable scarcity of studies examining the impact of global phenomena, such as imperialism, on domestic bureaucratic development through “second image reversed” (Gourevitch 1978) perspectives.Footnote 3

We can distinguish between different forms of imperialism, such as direct and indirect rule (Gerring et al. 2011).Footnote 4 Regardless of which kind of imperial rule is analyzed, much of the existing research has an essential shortcoming: the aggregation of data across the national, regional, and/or local levels of the administrative hierarchy—a practice that may obfuscate vital nuances observable in more fine-grained analyses (cf. Gingerich 2013). Consider, for instance, La Porta et al. (1997), who code the United States as a “common law” country, without taking into account the French, Spanish, or Mexican civil law origins of some American state legal systems (Berkowitz and Clay 2012). Overlooking these and comparable differences along the administrative hierarchy can yield inconsistent results. This study elucidates those differences.

Importantly, this article does not claim that all existing analyses are limited to the national level (or to the aggregation of data at the national level). There are many contributions that have moved from investigating national-level institutions to explaining subnational geographic variation. For instance, Lankina and Getachew (2012) examine if subnational variation in democratic outcomes across India is linked to missionary work and British colonialism. Similarly, Peisakhin (2014) examines variation in political attitudes and behavior, differentiating between a variety of local transmission mechanisms. These studies represent crucial advancements in moving away from simply aggregating data at the national level. However, what is missing from even these more fine-grained analyses is a joint examination of outcomes at multiple levels of the administrative hierarchy that is supported by a clear theoretical perspective. Thus, there still is a need to further differentiate between the administrative levels of government and examine how the quality of legacies could diverge along this administrative hierarchy, justifying a more in-depth study on possible variation along this specific dimension.

Several examples exist of how puzzling results can arise from disregarding the administrative hierarchy. For instance, Grosfeld and Zhuravskaya (2015) find no imperial legacies in Poland with respect to “trust in government.” Yet it is unclear whether the underlying question refers to the local, regional, or national government. If there is differential trust in governments along the administrative hierarchy, an aggregate measurement might obfuscate existing legacies. This could explain the discrepancy between their results and Vogler (2019b), who provides evidence for imperial legacies in local-government efficiency and meritocracy. Similarly, Kantorowicz (2022) finds differences in taxation practices across the historical borders of empires at the municipality level in Poland. Such clear variation in administrative performance likely affects citizens’ trust in local-level government.Footnote 5

Another example is the study by Levkin (2015) that finds no differences in “trust in bureaucracy” between the formerly Habsburg and Ottoman parts of Romania. However, attitudes towards state institutions could differ between the national, regional, and local levels, and Becker et al. (2016) show that trust in specific regional (not local) state institutions (especially courts) varies significantly across the historical Habsburg borders.

Therefore, I seek to answer the following question: Do the legacies of foreign rule systematically vary along the administrative hierarchy? My analysis covers both bureaucratic and judicial state institutions as prominent studies in political economy have found that both types of institutions have been affected by foreign rule.

To answer the question raised above, I develop a theoretical framework of imperial pervasiveness. I assume that when empires integrate territories into their core boundaries, (1) the imperial rulers typically seek to establish effective controlFootnote 6 over them, while (2) the people in those territories prefer to gain autonomyFootnote 7 and thus attempt to resist colonial control. These are relevant underlying assumptions of my framework. With respect to the first of these assumptions, empires often tried to impose new institutions in occupied territories to ensure some degree of control (e.g., Centeno and Enriquez 2010; Matsuzaki 2019; Mattingly 2017; Vogler 2019b). The combination of such attempts to impose external institutions—even in cases in which those institutions were significantly more capable/modern than existing arrangements—frequently led to resistance by ruled populations (cf. Ferwerda and Miller 2014; Hechter 2013; Vogler 2019b), which is indicative of tensions that are inherent to numerous episodes of imperialism. Specifically, because even modern (externally imposed) institutions were used to suppress local populations and deny them self-governance, their imposition was often associated with processes of alienation and rejection.Footnote 8

Given these assumptions, two dynamics predict a more effective imposition of institutions at higher levels of the administrative hierarchy. First, empires are typically subject to resource limitations (Kennedy 1988; Münkler 2007, 47; Vogler 2022). Financial pressures likely force imperial rulers to optimize cost-effectiveness by prioritizing the funding of institutions that are essential to imperial governance as they cover a wider area and a larger number of people, that is, those at higher administrative levels (which we might think of as “institutional economies of scale”). Second, building on insights from the literatures on political-economic organization (Hayek 1945; Rodrik 2007, chap. 5), empires (Centeno and Enriquez 2010; Münkler 2007, 125–126), and principal-agent theory (McCubbins et al. 1987; McCubbins 2014), I make the following argument: Organizational constraints and informational asymmetries in complex social systems limit the effectiveness of centralized imperial rule with respect to lower administrative levels and give ruled populations an informational advantage when resisting external rule at the local level. Accordingly, the effectiveness of imperial institutions varies along the administrative hierarchy.

I test this framework with an original dataset from present-day Romania that includes comprehensive information on citizen perceptions of state institutions at different administrative levels. Romania is an ideal testing ground for my theory, which aims to explain variations in the legacies of foreign rule. First, I am primarily interested in the institutions of the modern state and public administration, which developed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Carpenter 2001; Raadschelders and Rutgers 1996; Silberman 1993; Vogler 2023, forthcoming). Throughout this time period, the territories of present-day Romania were partly ruled by the Habsburg Empire and partly autonomous. Specifically, the region of Transylvania was ruled by the Austrian state between 1687 and 1866 and (subsequently) by the Hungarian state—as a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire—between 1867 and 1918. The other main parts of the Romanian nation (Wallachia and Moldavia) formed the Kingdom of Romania in 1866 and afterwards developed an early modern state. Figure 1 portrays the historical division.

Fig. 1
figure 1

The Austro-Hungarian Empire and Romania (1900). (This map is partly based on the following source: ©EuroGeographics for the administrative boundaries.)

The Romanian Communist regime aimed for the complete homogenization and unification of the country (Bădescu and Sum 2005, 118; Hitchins 2014, chap. 6), which makes finding Habsburg legacies more challenging and implies that Romania is a hard test case.Footnote 9 Finally, the primarily military rationale of the border placement constitutes a natural experiment based on geography (Keele and Titiunik 2016). A quasi-random placement of bordersFootnote 10 makes it possible to use a range of empirical techniques, including a geographic regression discontinuity design (GRDD) (Becker et al. 2016; Levkin 2015).Footnote 11

In these empirical analyses, I rely on citizen evaluations and use a combination of more objective measures (wait times for standard administrative tasks) and more subjective measures (perceptions of corruption/trust). Both kinds of measures have their advantages and disadvantages: Objective measures of wait times for standard tasks are more comparable and arguably more reliable. To the contrary, subjective measures of corruption and trust in institutions may be more prone to individual cognitive biases. Yet, at the same time, they may also be substantively more relevant as they represent key components of the state’s overall legitimacy. If citizens perceive public institutions as corrupt or not trustworthy, this can have negative effects on state–citizen interactions, including lower tax morale (Bräutigam et al. 2008; Levi 1989), higher willingness to engage in clientelistic exchange (Bustikova and Corduneanu-Huci 2017), and more frequent anti-government protests (Gingerich 2009).Footnote 12

In analyzing both types of measures, I find that the legacies of foreign rule differ significantly both across the imperial borders and between levels of the administrative hierarchy. While the effect of Habsburg rule is positive at the regional level, it is either negative or displays no significant differences at the local level. These findings highlight the diverging impact and effectiveness of imperialism along the administrative hierarchy. More generally, my results underscore that we should not simply assume homogeneity of imperial rule. While I emphasize one specific dimension—of distinctions along the administrative hierarchy that are associated with the imposition of bureaucratic and legal institutions—this study also connects to the broader literature on within-colonizer heterogeneity in a variety of areas (e.g., Bruhn and Gallego 2012; Iyer 2010). Cumulatively, my findings and these studies suggest that imperial rule is much more complex and multifaceted than is frequently assumed. For this reason, we need to rethink the study of colonial origins.

Theory, History, and Hypotheses

Framework of the Differential Effects of Imperial Rule and an Application to the Habsburg Empire

It is important to distinguish between at least three forms of imperial rule. Empires can either (1) integrate territories into their core state boundaries, (2) establish a formal colony to rule directly, or (3) indirectly rule a territory by rendering it dependent while not implementing institutions (see Gerring et al. 2011). My theory is focused on the first type of imperial domination, which was common in Europe: Russia, Germany, and the Habsburg Empire typically integrated occupied lands into their core territory and imposed their own administrative institutions to consolidate their rule.Footnote 13 In general, the inhabitants of foreign-controlled territories desired autonomy and sought opportunities for resistance (cf. Aaskoven 2022; Ferwerda and Miller 2014; Hechter 2013; Vogler 2019b).

For the Habsburg rulers, effectively controlling occupied territories was a major goal. The ability to enforce laws was particularly relevant for core functions of the state, such as tax collection and military conscription. Concerns about effective control of occupied territories and related issues caused two major efforts toward a more uniform administrative system. First, after military conflicts in the eighteenth century, the Habsburgs recognized that fragmentation in administrative organization was disadvantageous for military mobilization (Deak 2015, 9–12, 16; Hochedlinger 2003, 7–9; Judson 2016, 4–5, 16, 26–29; Kann 1974, 174–178). Moreover, after the 1848/49 revolutions, the centralization and unification of administrative organization was seen as a necessary response to resistance against Habsburg rule. Accordingly, consolidation of political control through a uniform and centralized public administration was an enduring goal of the Habsburgs (Deak 2015, 70, 95–96; Judson 2016, 54, 71, 103–107, 218–219). Thus, while we historically observe that some empires aimed at only controlling strategically or economically important locations in territories that were separated from their core state (cf. Acemoglu et al. 2002; Benton 2009; Sharman 2019; Vogler 2022, appendix), the Habsburgs generally incorporated occupied territories into their core boundaries and aimed at uniform geographic control (Deak 2015; Judson 2016). This also means that—in contrast to some other empires (Pierskalla et al. 2019)Footnote 14—the goal of this imperial state was the effective control of its entire territory, not merely a number of select valuable regions.Footnote 15

Although empires have incentives to control acquired territories—especially when they are part of their core state—the resources at their disposal are limited, creating pressures to allocate funding in a cost-effective manner (Münkler 2007, 47).Footnote 16 The full control of all localities within an occupied territory is costly, and excessive expenditures frequently contribute to imperial decline (Kennedy 1988). While the longevity of the British empire can be linked to its cost-effectiveness, comparing the burden of maintenance to the economic benefits (Edelstein 1982; Offer 1993), the downfall of the Spanish empire is often attributed to poor fiscal management (Münkler 2007, 66). If empires seek to establish uniform control over their territory but face financial constraints, they have incentives to prioritize the funding of institutions that cover the widest territory and the largest number of people as these institutions are essential to maintaining the coherence of imperial governance.Footnote 17

Similarly, the Habsburg state was always subject to financial pressures as reflected by an enduring budget deficit (Deak 2015, 30–33, 133; Hochedlinger 2003, 30–34; Judson 2016, 26–28, 45, 72, 108, 220; Münkler 2007, 63), which directly affected the financing of its administrative apparatus (Hochedlinger 2003, 34; Judson 2016, 43). Thus, achieving cost-effectiveness in administrative organization was the driving goal behind many reforms of the state (Kann 1974, 177). Bureaucratic structures had to be constructed in a way that allowed for the maintenance of Habsburg rule while minimizing financial burdens (Deak 2015, 9–12, 15–16, 21–22, 26, 107, 133, 138–141; Judson 2016, 72, 108, 219). These circumstances explain why Habsburg rulers had incentives to prioritize the funding and control of institutions that covered a more extensive geographic area and a larger number of people, while they often delegated local responsibilities to the landed nobility and other actors (Judson 2016, 43).

Furthermore, bureaucracies sometimes experience limits with respect to the flow and management of knowledge (Coyne 2008; Tullock 2005). Complex social systems can be difficult to control for imperial rulers, as the aggregation of information has the potential to push highly centralized political structures to their organizational limits (Hayek 1945; Münkler 2007, 125–126; Rodrik 2007, chap. 5). The imperfect aggregation of knowledge—along with informational asymmetries between the imperial center and the local population,Footnote 18 comparable to asymmetries in a principal-agent relationship (McCubbins et al. 1987; McCubbins 2014)—likely gives the ruled people an informational advantage when resisting foreign institutions.Footnote 19 In turn, the level of effective control that empires enjoy decreases, while the space for resistance and the likelihood of tensions with the population increase as we move down along the administrative hierarchy.

The Habsburg Empire experienced such constraints as well. Even though it had a relatively modern bureaucracy and legal system as of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Deak 2015; Foster 2003, 13–14; Judson 2016, 107; Raphael 2000, 58–59), its public administration faced challenges of information flow and effective local control. The large number of languages spoken within the Empire’s boundaries and its cultural, religious, and ethnic fragmentation were partially constitutive of these limits. Moreover, representatives of the state regularly found themselves in struggles with members of the local nobility or other forces for local autonomy, indicating tensions at the local level. All of this meant that the power of the imperial center did not reach all localities (Deak 2015, 13–16, 30, 38–41, 44–49, 88–90; Judson 2016, 18–19, 38–39, 43–49, 79–81). It is worth pointing out that, during the period of neoabsolutism in 1849–1859, the state expanded its reach, but heterogeneity in local conditions and financial pressures remained severe constraints on effective control (Deak 2015, chaps. 3–4; Judson 2016, 218–220).

Table 1 Constraints on Imperial Rule and Consequences for the Implementation of Institutions

In short, when empires try to impose institutions on occupied territories, this process if often associated with significant tensions. Even the imposition of modern bureaucratic and legal institutions can be associated with sustained resistance by local populations, especially if those institutions are used to suppress these populations politically. Given these circumstances, two factors predict a differential effect along the administrative hierarchy. As summarized in Table 1 and Fig. 2, the combination of (1) resource constraints and (2) limits to the aggregation of knowledge along with informational asymmetries means that foreign rule can be expected to be less effective and experience more tensions with the local population as one moves down along the administrative hierarchy. All of these predictions can be observed in the case of the Habsburg Empire.

Fig. 2
figure 2

Framework of Imperial Pervasiveness

The Imperial Administration in Transylvania (1849–1918)

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when modern bureaucracies emerged (Silberman 1993; Carpenter 2001; Raadschelders and Rutgers 1996; Vogler 2023, forthcoming), Transylvania—a region of present-day Romania—was part of the Habsburg Empire. Since the early nineteenth century, the Habsburg public administration, too, had many characteristics similar to the concept of “modern bureaucracy” (Becker et al. 2016; Deak 2015, 21, 29; Taylor 1948, 38; Vogler 2023, forthcoming). However, the imposition of Habsburg institutions in Transylvania was multifaceted.

Before 1848, the local landed elites of Transylvania administered their lands themselves (Deak 2015, 44–45; Judson 2016, 42–43, 80–85). After 1848, however, the external imposition of modern administrative institutions began. At first, between 1849 and 1867, the Austrian state pursued a policy of “[e]xcessive centralization and ... Germanization” (Treptow 1996, 330).Footnote 20 On one hand, this entailed the introduction of modern and rational bureaucratic and legal institutions, which had been developed by Austria (Deak 2015; Foster 2003, 13–14; Raphael 2000, 58). On the other hand, it conflicted with the Romanian goal of gaining greater political and cultural autonomy (Hitchins 1994, 4–5, 202; Kann 1974, 304).Footnote 21

In 1867, following the defeat of Austria in the war against Prussia, the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary was established (Deak 2015, 167–171; Hoensch 1996, 16–19; Judson 2016, 259–264; Kann 1974, 332–342). As a consequence, Transylvania fell under Hungarian administration (Bodea and Cândea 1982, 53). Even though the Hungarian state institutions—like Austria’s—were closer to the modern bureaucracy than administration by the landed elites (Küpper 2017), significant tensions arose between the bureaucracy and the Romanians. The Hungarian government wanted to achieve a Magyar (Hungarian) empire and aimed to integrate Transylvania politically, administratively, and culturally. Hungarian bureaucratic institutions were imposed at both the regional and local levels. With the goal of removing Romanian national identity, Hungarian became the official national language and was required in schools. Furthermore, the political structure of Transylvania was designed to maximize the electoral influence of Hungarians over Romanians. Therefore, achieving political autonomy became a key goal of the Romanians in Transylvania (Bodea and Cândea 1982, chaps. 12–13; Hitchins 1994, 202–230; Hitchins 2014, 144–145; Hoensch 1996, 28–31; Szász 2002, 669–677; Treptow 1996, 336–339).

After the compromise of 1867, the Hungarian government increasingly “sought to exercise greater control over county and local government” (Judson 2016, 344),Footnote 22 which led to strong Romanian resistance. “Of the three communities [of Transylvania, Bucovina, and Bessarabia], the Rumanians of Transylvania put up the strongest defence of their national existence” (Hitchins 1994, 202).Footnote 23 Measures of both active and passive resistance were taken against Transylvania’s integration into the administrative structures of Hungary (Bodea and Cândea 1982, 59; Hitchins 1994, 204–205, 216–217; Szász 2002, 669–670). Moreover, in a memorandum to the Emperor, Romanian politicians and intellectuals demanded Transylvania’s autonomy (Hitchins 1994, 208–209; Treptow 1996, 336). While, under Hungarian rule, all traditional formal administrative institutions (that had previously existed) were abandoned, it is likely that local elites and populations were able to preserve some of their own informal institutions that contradicted the newly imposed formal administrative institutions. When there are such contradictions between formal and informal institutions, the effectiveness of governing is often reduced (see Böröcz 2000; Lauth 2004).

The opposition to administrative integration was so strong because the Hungarian bureaucracy was accused by the Romanians of participating in the destruction of Romanian culture and political development (Hitchins 1994, 212). In the late nineteenth century, under prime minister Dezső Bánffy, the attempts of Magyarization supported by the public administration became even more intense—all the way to the local level (Szász 2002, 695–696). Because the Romanian majority only represented six percent of bureaucrats (Treptow 1996, 338–339) and the Hungarian language dominated in administrative affairs (Hoensch 1996, 31; Judson 2016, 267), the alienation between the administration and the Romanian inhabitants of Transylvania grew stronger, and the latter called for more representation (Szász 2002, 674–675).

Similar dynamics can also be observed in the broader “professional class,” including the legal profession, which was heavily dominated by Hungarians. If any members of ethnic minorities found access to this professional class in the Habsburg Empire’s Hungarian part, they were primarily Germans and Jews—not Romanians (Kovács 1994, 16–20). A factor that further added to the inaccessibility of the public administration was the perceived “overproduction” of graduates—a phenomenon that was closely related to the relative scarcity of prestigious jobs for citizens with higher education. These circumstances led to personal and political relationships playing a greater role in administrative recruitment, furthering the notion of significant bureaucratic corruption (Janos 1982, 170–171). All of this contributed to the alienation between the Hungarian administration and the Romanian population.

Hechter (2013) argues that foreign rule is more likely to be seen as legitimate if it is considered effective and fair. With respect to fairness, the Hungarian public administration did not work indiscriminately—instead, it often put Romanians at a disadvantage, especially with respect to recruitment and the enforcement of regulations (Bodea and Cândea 1982, 55–56). This can partly explain why the Hungarian administration was perceived as corrupt and why there was such strong opposition to it.Footnote 24 However, building upon Hechter (2013) and my previous discussion, differential effectiveness of institutions at the regional and local levels means that institutions at the upper levels of the administrative hierarchy are likely to have been perceived as more legitimate.

In the legal realm, too, the Hungarian state was moving closer to the modern Rechtsstaat, amongst others, by establishing independent courts as of 1869. The goal of modernization motivated judicial reforms that lasted throughout the late nineteenth century (Küpper 2017, 294–295, 299–300). Romanians enjoyed essential rights, including the rights to property and individual freedom (Bíró 1992, chap. 5). Yet, at the same time, Hungarian laws and their enforcement through the legal system were seen as essential to the denial of Romanian autonomy (Hitchins 1994, 204–207; Molnár 2001, 223). The courts also rejected petitions in Romanian (Judson 2016, 267). Thus, while the system was close to the principles of a modern Rechtsstaat in that it successfully protected essential individual rights, regardless of ethnic background, it denied the Romanians political autonomy and prohibited the use of their own language in legal affairs.

Fig. 3
figure 3

The Imposition of Administrative Institutions in Transylvania

In sum, before 1848, Transylvania was administered by its nobility. The introduction of modern bureaucratic and legal institutions began after 1848. For approximately two decades, this process was associated with comprehensive attempts of “germanization.” Additionally, following the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867, Hungarian administrative and legal institutions were imposed, leading to strong resistance by the Romanian population. Figure 3 illustrates these historical  developments.

Based on my theory, I expect that foreign rule had some positive long-term effects. The externally imposed public administration and legal system were closer to the principles of a modern state than traditional control through the nobility. Nonetheless, strong historical resistance against external rule by the local population means that effects may differ along the administrative hierarchy. Following my framework that emphasizes informational and financial constraints, I expect this resistance against institutions to be most successful at the local level.

The Romanian State and Its Institutional Development (1866–1918)

In the years 1866–67, amid the integration of Transylvania into Hungary’s administrative structures, a Romanian state was founded in the regions of Wallachia and Moldavia. Its 1866 constitution was a liberal document with middle-class principles at its core (Hitchins 1994, 17–22; Hitchins 2014, 113–115). Prior to the nineteenth century, Wallachia and Moldavia had been part of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottomans had attempted to impose their own administrative institutions in 1595, but had failed due to military backlashes (Treptow 1996, 158). Even though Wallachia and Moldavia subsequently had to pay tributes, the two provinces retained a high level of autonomy, did not adopt Islamic institutions, and never introduced millet courts or the timar system (Levkin 2015; Mendelski and Libman 2014; Pamuk 2004, 230; Sugar 1996, 113, 121; Treptow 1996, 158–159). Instead, many local customs and institutions remained in use (Levkin 2015; Pamuk 2004, 230; Sugar 1996, 121). As the Ottomans did not impose an administrative apparatus on Wallachia and Moldavia, left local institutions in place, and never had a modern bureaucracy of their own—which only developed in Romania after 1866 (Hitchins 1994, 1)—the Ottoman impact on administrative institutions was relatively minor.Footnote 25

The most decisive events shaping the public administration of Romania happened long after Ottoman influence had waned. In 1864, the Communal Act and the Act for the Establishment of County Councils created a common framework for the organization of local administration, and the 1866 constitution established the central administration (Dinca 2012, 9–11). Furthermore, the Brătianu government (1876–1888) initiated major reforms aimed at further centralization of the state, including the 1884 constitutional revision (Hitchins 1994, 96; Hitchins 2014, 130).

But the modernization and unification of the bureaucratic system in the form of a unitary state was only completed later, namely in the interwar period (1918–1939) (Dinca 2012, 13–20). This means that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Romanian bureaucracy still lagged behind its Austrian and Hungarian counterparts, which had mostly completed this process (Deak 2015; Küpper 2017; Molnár 2001, 223; Wiederin 2017). Nonetheless, in 1901, the number of civil servants expanded to two percent of the population (Hitchins 1994, 162), and Romania had developed a strong executive with a centralized bureaucracy (Hitchins 2014, 112). Thus, while the Habsburg bureaucracy was seen as more capable than the public administration of its neighbors to the east and south, as it had been in the past (Becker et al. 2016, 47–48), legislation was gradually moving Romania toward a modern bureaucracy (Dinca 2012, 7–13).

In terms of the legal-judicial system, the Romanian state was moving closer to the modern Rechtsstaat. The principle of equality before the law had already been formally established in Wallachia and Moldavia in 1856 (Dinca 2012, 8) and was confirmed by the 1866 constitution (Hitchins 2014, 113). But, in practice, the legal system did not offer equality to women and the Roma (Hitchins 2014, 115–116), the working class had no protection against exploitation (Hitchins 1994, 163), and Jews were denied essential civil and political rights (Hitchins 1994, 164–166). Thus, despite some progress, the Romanian legal system did not fully meet the standards of the modern Rechtsstaat, while the Habsburg Empire was more advanced in the judicial realm (Bíró 1992, chap. 5; Deak 2015, 170–171; Foster 2003, 13–14; Judson 2016, 107; Küpper 2017).

To summarize, Wallachia and Moldavia began the development of modern state institutions in the 1860s. Both the Austro-Hungarian and Romanian administrations were centralized systems, but two crucial differences remained. First, the Habsburg bureaucracy and legal system were closer to the standards of the modern state than their equivalents in the Kingdom of Romania. Second, the former was associated with an undermining of Romanian political, administrative, and cultural autonomy, which led to strong local resistance against foreign rule in Transylvania.Footnote 26


Based on the previous discussion, it is clear that a significant tension was inherent to many forms of imperial domination. This tension can also be observed in the case of Habsburg rule in Romania. While the legal and administrative institutions imposed by the Habsburg Empire meant significant advancements compared to previous political-administrative practices (that is, a relatively modern bureaucracy and Rechtsstaat compared to prior rule through the landed elites), the denial of political autonomy and the comprehensive exclusion of Romanians from the state apparatus led to alienation from and resistance by the Romanian population. The administrative and legal systems of the Kingdom of Romania were similar, especially in terms of the degree of centralization, but they did not come as close to modern state standards as Habsburg institutions (cf. Mendelski and Libman 2014).Footnote 27

This inherent tension of imperial rule (more advanced institutions on one hand, coupled with resistance by the local population on the other) is reflected in my theoretical framework that allows for positive effects of foreign rule at higher levels of the administrative hierarchy (at which the Habsburg Empire invested more resources and was subject to less effective resistance by the local population). Specifically, for the elaborated reasons, I expect that the implementation of modern state institutions was more successful at the regional level and less successful—and subject to greater tensions with the population—at the local level. Thus, I anticipate divergent long-term effects of the imposition of administrative institutions at the regional and local levels. Yet it is difficult to assess the operational effectiveness of state institutions with perfect accuracy. Since I rely on survey data from Romanian citizens, my measurements represent experiences with and perceptions of public institutions and my testable hypotheses are focused on variations in these dimensions. In the following section, I discuss if and how this could be problematic for my analysis.

From the above discussion, I derive two hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: State institutions at the regional level in the parts of Romania that were under the control of the Habsburg Empire (Austria-Hungary) will operate more efficiently and be perceived more positively than in the parts that were not under control of the Habsburg Empire.

Hypothesis 2: State institutions at the local level in the parts of Romania that were under the control of the Habsburg Empire (Austria-Hungary) will either show no difference to or operate less efficiently and be perceived less positively than in the parts that were not under control of the Habsburg Empire.

In the Appendix, I discuss the mechanisms of intertemporal transmission in detail.

Empirical Test

To empirically assess imperial legacies, I conducted an original survey focused on perceptions of public institutions in Romania. The main reason for the collection of an original dataset was that most existing surveys ask about broadly defined institutions, such as “the bureaucracy” or “the legal system,” without sufficiently differentiating between levels of the administrative hierarchy in the wording of questions. Yet exploring distinct legacies along the administrative hierarchy is the primary aim of my study.

Thus, I included questions on perceptions of both local and regional public institutions. The data represent a random sample of Romanian citizens. The interviews were executed face-to-face by trained specialists of the Romanian survey firm INSCOP. A total of 1,001 adults were surveyed in April and May 2017. While the analysis of further surveys at multiple other points in time (for instance, one shortly after the fall of communism) would have been ideal, due to the focus on differences along the administrative hierarchy—which are not sufficiently covered in most other datasets—the usefulness of data from other periods and sources (for example, Eurobarometer) is severely limited.

As my data are based on perceptions and experiences, I have to acknowledge the possibility that it is not the underlying performance of these institutions that differs, but merely views thereof. In this regard, Marvel (2016) demonstrates that deeply rooted attitudes toward bureaucracies can affect performance evaluations even when recent information is provided. Several responses can be given to this possible limitation. First, as Chamlee-Wright and Storr (2010) demonstrate, perceptions of government action affect citizen behavior even in the most critical situations, such as natural disasters. Furthermore, negative perceptions of governments, for example perceived corruption, could undermine the legitimacy of political rulers (Gingerich 2009; Seligson 2002). Thus, perceptions and expectations are highly socially relevant, in part because they affect the behavior of citizens and ultimately also the actual performance of public administrations, for example in terms of the quality of public services (Vogler 2019a).Footnote 28

Another potential problem is measurement error. Previous research has revealed that the “objective” quality of public services and citizen satisfaction with those services are not always correlated (Kelly and Swindell 2002). These concerns may be related to how exactly public service quality is measured or quantified (Andrews et al. 2006). I address concerns about possible measurement error in two ways. First, I abstain from asking questions about public service quality in areas that are difficult to observe or quantify for citizens. Instead, I focus on questions that are easy to quantify or do not require quantification at all. Second, in order to minimize bias from systematic differences in subjective scales (which could happen more easily if the true differences were only in perceptions instead of underlying performance), I ask questions about procedures that most citizens have direct exposure to and that are easy to put into numbers, such as waiting times. Finally, since trained survey specialists collected the data, I have no reason to believe that any systematic measurement error was induced by the interviewers. Nonetheless, following Andrews et al. (2006), future contributions considering similar issues could improve on the study at hand by considering additional indicators of bureaucratic performance.

Figure 4 shows the locations of respondents on a map of Romania with the present-day borders represented by a solid black line and the historical division superimposed. Information on the historical borders was obtained from Nüssli and Nüssli (2008) and information on the present-day borders from Eurostat (2017).

Fig. 4
figure 4

Division of Romania (1866–1920) and the Survey Locations (2017). (This map is partly based on the following source: ©EuroGeographics for the administrative boundaries.)

Among others, I apply a geographic RDD, with the imperial borders as the historical discontinuity.Footnote 29 In the Appendix, I elaborate in detail on the assumption of quasi-randomness of the imperial border, and, below, on the specifications of my regressions.

In the empirical analysis, I evaluate the perceptions of state institutions at the local and regional levels. With respect to the local level, I primarily use the following variables:

  1. 1.

    Perceptions of the frequency of corrupt practices at the local public administration (at the level of the municipality, city, or commune)

  2. 2.

    Wait times to apply for a government issued ID, which is an administrative task at the local level (available in the nearest municipality)

  3. 3.

    Trust in the local public administration (at the level of the municipality, city, or commune) (results for this variable are primarily in the Appendix)

  4. 4.

    Perceptions of the efficiency of the local public administration (at the level of the municipality, city, or commune) (results for this variable are primarily in the Appendix)

An investigation of corrupt practices is particularly important from the perspective of political economy because corruption significantly inhibits development and economic activity/growth (Goudie and Stasavage 1998; Mauro 1995).Footnote 30

Moreover, in order to identify differences in regional-level institutions, I specifically consider the following two variables:

  1. 1.

    Trust in courts (at the lowest level, courts are responsible for a district or a county, which typically encompasses multiple communes or cities)

  2. 2.

    Wait times for a car registration or a driver’s license, which are administrative tasks that are conducted for multiple administrative subunits by a regional bureaucratic institution responsible for the entire county (Judeţ)

In particular, the analysis of wait times is highly comparable between the regional and the local levels. In both cases, we deal with relatively common, uncomplicated, and frequent administrative requests that do not substantially deviate in their formal requirements across different territorial settings.Footnote 31 While the more “objective” measure of wait times is thus extremely similar at both administrative levels, with respect to the more “subjective” measures, I chose several different operationalizations at the local level (including perceptions of both corruption and efficiency). My choice of measures at different levels was guided by a number of factors. First, “trust in courts” is the main variable used in one of the most prominent scholarly contributions on the Habsburg Empire’s legacies by Becker et al. (2016). Because this outcome (and the comparison to outcomes in other studies) was one of the motivations for my study (as detailed in the introduction), I chose to replicate their measurement.

Although I also use an additional measure of corruption at the local level, this measurement is still substantively related to the previous measurement (of trust) at the regional level. Specifically, the literature has found that corruption and trust in public institutions are not only closely related concepts, but there are indications that they mutually reinforce each other (see Morris and Klesner 2010; Putnam et al. 1993; Uslaner 2013). Moreover, the inclusion of further local-level measures (perceptions of corruption and perceptions of efficiency) was guided by the fact that, in line with my theory, citizens have the chance to more directly observe patterns of state employees’ behavior at this level. Given (1) how closely related the two concepts are and (2) the fact that citizens have more opportunities for direct interaction with the local administration (which is in line with my theoretical framework), the inclusion of additional, more concrete measures that build on direct observations is justified here. Finally, more detailed information on the coding of the dependent variables is included in the Appendix.

Empirical Techniques and Properties of the Regressions

To test if there are any long-term legacies of the Habsburg Empire, and if those legacies differ between the regional and local levels, I make use of several empirical techniques. Because each of these empirical techniques has individual benefits and shortcomings, we can only have a high level of confidence in results that show consistency across several different regression formats. I begin with a simple dummy variable framework. Then, I proceed to use a GRDD with distance to the border as the forcing variable. To address potential weaknesses of an RD analysis—including the smaller number of observations in the immediate vicinity of the border and possible spillover effects—I include a third alternative: matching based on covariates. Below, I elaborate on these methods and their respective empirical specifications.

Simple Dummy Variable Comparison: Before I conduct a geographic RD analysis, I use a simple dummy variable framework with the following properties:

$$\begin{aligned} y_{i} = \beta _{0} + \beta _{1} \ Habsburg \ Empire_i + \varepsilon _i \end{aligned}$$

\(y_{i}\) is the dependent variable at the level of the individual respondent i. \(\beta _{1}\) represents the difference between respondents in the formerly independent parts of Romania and respondents from the formerly Austro-Hungarian parts.

In the results section, I also briefly point to the results of a simple dummy variable analysis that includes covariates. In this case, the regression has the following format:

$$\begin{aligned} y_{i} = \beta _{0} + \beta _{1} \ Habsburg \ Empire_i + \mathbf {x}^{\prime }_{\mathbf {i}} \ \varvec{\beta } + \varepsilon _i \end{aligned}$$

In the above specification, \(\mathbf{x}'\) represents a vector of covariates and \(\varvec{\beta }\) represents a vector of the respective coefficients.

Geographic RD Analysis: Additionally, I implement a geographic RDD (Keele and Titiunik 2015), using distance to the border as the forcing variable:

$$\begin{aligned} y_{i} = \beta _{0} + \beta _{1} \ Habsburg \ Empire_i + \mathbf{x'_{i}} \ \varvec{\beta } + f (geographic \ location) + \varepsilon _i \end{aligned}$$

\(y_{i}\) is the dependent variable. \(\beta _{1}\) represents the difference between answers by respondents from the two historically distinct parts of Romania. \(\mathbf{x}'\) represents a vector of covariates and \(\varvec{\beta }\) represents a vector of the respective coefficients. \(f (geographic \ location)\) is one of three functions of the geographic location described below.

Distance to Border: The first function represents the air distance to the historical border:

$$\begin{aligned} f (geographic \ location)= & {} \gamma _{1} \ distance \ to \ border_i \nonumber \\&+ \gamma _{2} \ distance \ to \ border_i * Habsburg \ Empire_i \end{aligned}$$

In this format, distance is measured as the absolute distance to the historical border in kilometers. In each comparison, distance values are negative for respondents located in the parts that formerly belonged to Austria-Hungary and positive for respondents located in the parts that formerly belonged to independent Romania. Coefficients are represented by \(\gamma\).

Latitude/Longitude: In addition to measuring the distance to the border, I use another specification, including controls for latitude and longitude and an interaction of the two:

$$\begin{aligned} f (geographic \ location)= & {} \gamma _{1} x + \gamma _{2} y + \gamma _{3} x y + \gamma _{4} \ distance \ to \ border_i \nonumber \\&+\gamma _{5} \ distance \ to \ border_i * Habsburg \ Empire_i \end{aligned}$$

In this framework and in the one below, x represents a respondent’s latitude and y represents a respondent’s longitude. Coefficients are again represented by \(\gamma\).

Latitude/Longitude Polynomials: Moreover, following Dell (2010), I use a function where the geographic location is a function of latitude, longitude, and interactions as well as polynomials of those variables:

$$\begin{aligned} f (geographic \ location)= & {} \gamma _{1} x + \gamma _{2} y + \gamma _{3} x^2 + \gamma _{4} y^2 + \gamma _{5} x y + \gamma _{6} x^2 y + \gamma _{7} x y^2 + \gamma _{8} x^3 \nonumber \\&+\gamma _{9} y^3 + \gamma _{10} \ distance \ to \ border_i + \gamma _{11} \ distance \ to \ border_i * Habsburg \ Empire_i \end{aligned}$$

Matching: In the Appendix, I also discuss the added benefits of matching and conduct further analyses based on this empirical technique.


In some regressions, I also include a number of potentially relevant covariates. It is important to note that the inclusion of covariates may lead to posttreatment bias because the covariates themselves can be affected by past imperial rule. Accordingly, while I include models with covariates for full transparency, models without them are generally preferable because they allow to rule out this specific form of bias.

Below, I distinguish between local context variables (i.e., variables that primarily reflect local contextual factors) and respondent characteristics (i.e., variables that primarily reflect personal characteristics of the respondent).

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, reliable and comprehensive data on public finances or funding in Romania at the local level are not available for the relevant time period. However, even if some areas are richer or poorer, it would not explain inconsistencies between local and regional institutions in the same areas, which is the central object of inquiry here.

Finally, descriptive summary statistics of all variables as well as a covariate balance table can be found in the Appendix.

Local Context Covariates

Location Type (Urban vs. Rural Distinctions): As I have argued earlier, other than many overseas empires (Benton 2009; Pierskalla et al. 2019; Sharman 2019), the Habsburg state sought a uniformly high level of control over its entire territory (cf. Deak 2015; Judson 2016). To address concerns that, contrary to this argument, the Habsburgs may have sought to exercise more control over urbanized areas for economic or strategic reasons (cf. Acemoglu et al. 2002), or that they might have had incentives to treat rural areas differently (cf. Boone 2003), I include a covariate of location type to ensure that my findings are genuinely driven by differences in administrative hierarchies. The baseline will be cities and I introduce a dummy for communes (more rural locations) and for municipalities (more densely populated and larger than cities).

Female Mayor: Parts of the existing literature on corruption suggest that a greater influence or proportion of female politicians reduces corruption levels (Dollar et al. 2001; Swamy et al. 2001).Footnote 32 Thus, I control for the gender of the mayor.

Same Party Continuously in Government: If the same party is continuously successful in elections, this indicates lower levels of electoral competition. When electoral competition is low, opportunities for corrupt behavior or fiscal irresponsibility by local officials may increase (cf. Kitschelt and Wilkinson 2007). Accordingly, I control for the perceived persistent electoral success of a single party.

Capital: The administrative organization of the Romanian capital city Bucharest is slightly different because it consists of sectors that each have their own mayor and council. Therefore, I add a control variable for the capital.

Respondent Characteristics Covariates

Years of Residence: The number of years someone has lived in a certain location could increase exposure to the public administration, including corrupt acts by bureaucrats.

Respondent Age: Older people might perceive public institutions differently than younger people.

Public Administration Work Experience: Work experience in the public administration could bias respondents’ view of their employer.

Income Level: I distinguish between several household income levels because wealth could affect perceptions of public administrations.

Female: There may be differences in terms of exposure or perception of public institutions between male and female respondents.

Covariate Balance Table

Table 2 shows balance statistics for the covariates. 6 of the 8 covariates do not vary in a statistically significant way between the parts of present-day Romania that were historically controlled by the Habsburgs and the parts that were independent. However, two variables—(1) the perceived success of a single party in elections and (2) respondent age—vary systematically. While controlling for these covariates in the GRDD models is an imperfect first response, the more appropriate statistical technique to use to address this issue is genetic matching. The key advantage of genetic matching versus simpler matching methods (especially those that exclusively rely on propensity scores) is that genetic matching automatically ensures balance on all covariates (Diamond and Sekhon 2013). Accordingly, genetic matching effectively addresses the concern about covariate imbalance. As I show in the Appendix, the additional results of applying this method are fully in line with the main results presented in the article, indicating that the imbalance in covariates does not drive the study’s fundamental results.

Table 2 Covariate Balance Table

Empirical Test: Results

Initial Analysis: Simple Dummy Variables

I begin the empirical analysis with simple dummy regressions (Eq. 1). As described earlier, the Habsburg Empire implemented its modern state institutions more effectively at the regional level. Because informational asymmetries were not as significant at the regional level, there was less space for resistance, leading to fewer tensions with the population. Thus, I expect positive legacies with respect to the perception and performance of regional institutions. As shown in regressions 1 and 2 in Table 3, when using the simple dummy framework (at the optimal bandwidth, BW), my expectation is confirmed. Regional institutions enjoy higher levels of trust (the court system) and have significantly lower wait times for car registrations/driver’s licenses (regional bureaucracies) in the formerly Habsburg part.Footnote 33

Table 3 Regional Institutions (Simple Dummy Variables) (at Optimal Bandwidths (BWs))

While the institutions of the modern public administration brought to Transylvania by the Habsburgs were more efficient and rational than the traditional administration, which had been dominated by the local landed nobility, I predict that a combination of informational and financial constraints allows for more effective resistance against these institutions. Accordingly, I expect that the long-term legacies of Habsburg rule are much less visible, or even negative, at the local level.

As shown in regressions 1 and 2 (Table 4), with respect to the local level, my expectations are generally confirmed as well. The level of perceived corruption in local-level public administrations is significantly higher in the formerly Habsburg part, and with respect to wait times for an ID, trust in the local administration, and the perceived efficiency of the local administration, there are no statistically significant differences.Footnote 34

However, since I do not include measurements for geographic factors yet, these results can only be seen as preliminary. A more rigorous geographic analysis of the first two variables follows. In short, while legacies are positive at the regional level, they are either negative or statistically insignificant at the local level.Footnote 35

Table 4 Local Institutions (Simple Dummy Variables) (at Optimal BWs)

Geographic Analysis: Local State Institutions

Next, I move on to a geographic analysis; with distance to the border as my forcing variable in an RDD. I begin with an analysis of local state institutions and then consider regional institutions. All regression result tables are included in the Appendix.

I also control for geographic location (Eq. 3), using multiple different measurements (Eqs. 4, 5, and 6). The results indicate that local-level institutions that are in the formerly Habsburg parts are perceived either negatively or there are no statistically significant differences.Footnote 36 In general, local public administrations are perceived as more corrupt, and the wait times for IDs are higher.Footnote 37

With respect to corruption levels, Fig. 5 shows the distribution of cases around the discontinuity graphically. Like all further figures of this kind, it includes 95%-confidence intervals, based on the regressions without covariates. Respondents from territories that historically belonged to the Habsburg Empire are on the left, while other respondents are on the right. I observe a decrease in perceived corruption when moving from the formerly Habsburg parts to the formerly Romanian parts. Interestingly, this accords with historical perceptions of discriminatory practices by the local public administrations and greater tensions with the citizens of Transylvania.

Further graphs using a quadratic regression are included in the Appendix. When compared to graphs based on linear models, these additional graphs using a quadratic regression indicate the possibility of convergence in bureaucratic organization in the immediate vicinity of the historical border. This pattern could be caused by spillover effects, meaning a potential violation of SUTVA. I discuss this issue and an option for addressing it in the Appendix as well.

Fig. 5
figure 5

Comparison: Corruption Levels (Local)

In the following analysis, I use different border samples around the threshold. The dependent variable is unchanged. To identify the optimal bandwidth for the discontinuity analysis, I use an estimator by Imbens and Kalyanaraman (2012). I find an optimal bandwidth of 138 km and test four different bandwidths around this optimal one. All regressions show results that are significant at \(\alpha \leq 0.1\) or better.Footnote 38

Next, I consider the wait times when applying for an ID—an administrative task conducted at the local level in the nearest municipality. I find that the long-term effect of Habsburg rule is negative. In the formerly Habsburg parts, there are significantly longer wait times.

When taking the entire sample into consideration, the results are not statistically significant in one type of specification, namely, the regressions with multiple polynomials.Footnote 39 This means that these results are not as consistent across different specifications as the results for corruption levels.

Figure 6 shows the discontinuity graphically. I observe an increase in local-level wait times when moving from the formerly Habsburg parts to the formerly Romanian parts.Footnote 40

Fig. 6
figure 6

Comparison: Wait Time ID (Local)

Regarding the variable that measures wait times for an ID, I obtain an optimal bandwidth of approximately 142 km. In addition to a test at this specific bandwidth, I also test different bandwidths around the optimal one. While the Habsburg effect is consistently positive, it is not statistically significant at three bandwidths.Footnote 41 Accordingly, the results for wait times for an ID are less strong and less consistent across specifications than the results for corruption.

Geographic Analysis: Regional State Institutions

In this section, I take a closer look at regional-level institutions by including geographic controls (Eq. 3). The forcing variable again is the distance to the historical border. As with local institutions, I use all three measurements of geographic location (Eqs. 4, 5, and 6).

I begin with an analysis of the trust in courts by Romanian citizens. Courts are primarily organized at the regional level of the district or county, encompassing multiple localities. My analysis indicates that, regardless of how I measure geographic location and which covariates I include, people in the formerly Habsburg parts have significantly higher trust in courts. The results are highly statistically significant in each specification and in accordance with my framework.Footnote 42

In addition to the full sample regression, I create different subsets based on limited bandwidths around the historical border. I obtain an optimal bandwidth of 126 km and test bandwidths around this optimal one. I find general support for the effect of Habsburg rule in these regressions, even though the coefficient of Habsburg rule is not statistically significant in one of them.Footnote 43

Figure 7 shows the discontinuity graphically. I observe a decrease in trust in courts when moving from the formerly Habsburg parts to the formerly Romanian parts.Footnote 44

Fig. 7
figure 7

Comparison: Trust in Courts (Regional)

I also consider wait times for car registrations and driver’s licenses. Here I find that the effect of Habsburg rule is positive as well. In the formerly Habsburg parts, there are lower wait times. Even though the results are not significant in one type of geographic specification, I find partial support for my expectations.Footnote 45

Figure 8 shows the discontinuity graphically. I observe an increase in regional-level wait times when moving from the formerly Habsburg parts to the formerly Romanian parts.Footnote 46

Fig. 8
figure 8

Comparison: Wait Time Car Registration (County)

Next, I again limit the sample to different bandwidths around the historical border. I obtain an optimal bandwidth of 152 km and also test different bandwidths around the optimal one. Although I do not obtain significant results for one regression, the other regressions are highly significant.Footnote 47

Summary of Empirical Findings

Overall, confirming my expectations about a differential effect of foreign rule, the results of the statistical analysis indicate that there is a positive Habsburg legacy at the regional level and a negative or non-existent legacy at the local level.Footnote 48 Despite these crucial findings, a general weakness of the empirical results must be acknowledged: the explained variation in the dependent variable (\(R^2\)) is relatively low. While this could be related to the fact that the Habsburg Empire disintegrated a long time ago, making its legacy less visible in the present day, it is important to point out that, alternatively, there could be missing empirical factors that potentially further explain variation in the outcomes. Moreover, because there are several potential issues with the previous RD analysis, I also conduct an analysis based on genetic matching in the Appendix. Both analyses again broadly confirm my theoretical expectations.

Summary and Conclusion

There are numerous articles and books that investigate imperial legacies in political institutions, legal systems, or public bureaucracies, among others. Interestingly, those studies often present aggregate measures that disregard the levels of the administrative hierarchy. While they have yielded important results, the assumption that imperial rule has homogeneous effects across national, regional, and local state institutions can easily be called into question. It may be responsible for a number of puzzling and inconsistent results in the existing literature.

In response to this lacuna, I develop a framework of imperial pervasiveness. My argument is that resistance against foreign rule—in combination with financial and informational constraints on the imperial centerFootnote 49—generally makes the implementation of institutions at lower levels of the administrative hierarchy less effective. When comparing the rule of the Habsburg Empire to the institutional development in the independent parts of Romania, I hypothesize that Habsburg legacies will be positive at the regional level and non-existent or negative at the local level. This hypothesis is compatible with key insights in the political economy literature about the deficiencies of large (externally imposed) bureaucratic apparatuses in controlling heterogeneous territories and populations (cf. Coyne 2008; Tullock 2005).

Accordingly, a few results in the literature may now be suspect. For instance, the finding by Grosfeld and Zhuravskaya (2015) that there are no significant legacies with respect to trust in government in Poland may be a result of differential trust in local, regional, and national institutions. Similarly, with respect to the United States, we might need to analyze if findings by La Porta et al. (1997) and many similar studies hold when differentiating among number of legal traditions at the state level (Berkowitz and Clay 2012).

My contribution also advances arguments related to heterogeneous within-colonizer effects. For instance, Bruhn and Gallego (2012) take into account regional differences in economic activities by colonizers, and Iyer (2010) discusses heterogeneity of British rule in India (distinguishing between direct and indirect rule by the same colonizer). I add to this literature by analyzing divergence in within-colonizer effects along the administrative hierarchy.

In addition to the literature on imperial legacies, my results may also be relevant to the broader historical persistence literature (Abad and Maurer 2021; Cirone and Pepinsky 2022). Specifically, I have highlighted the role of resistance against institutions as a key factor that diminishes their long-term effects. Future contributions focused on historical persistence could examine the (more general) effects of sustained resistance by specific actors against a variety of political, economic, administrative, and cultural institutions, even in contexts in which resistance is not related to foreign rule. Given the breadth of the historical persistence literature, such an analysis would be of enormous relevance.

How generalizable are my insights? The external imposition of institutions in Transylvania shares certain characteristics with many other cases of Habsburg rule (e.g., in Serbia or Montenegro), where similar practices were followed. But some cases also deviate substantially: For instance, Austria granted rights to self-govern to Polish Galicia after 1867, fundamentally changing the potential long-term impact of its rule in the region (Vogler 2019b).

Since the theory presented here mainly focuses on cases in which a territory was directly incorporated into an empire’s core boundaries, future studies could extend and modify the framework to the analysis of separate territorial entities, such as overseas colonies. In general, as the underlying tensions of externally imposed institutions and resistance by local populations are an essential part of many types of imperial domination, an analysis of the multifaceted/heterogeneous effects of empires in other contexts would be highly desirable.

Based on the knowledge we have gained through this article and other studies, we can simply no longer assume that the effects of empires are homogeneous across a multitude of different dimensions. Thus, despite the aforementioned limitations, the study at hand provides relevant and novel insights into how the legacies of imperial rule vary along the administrative hierarchy—insights of crucial importance to future studies on imperial legacies.