Volha Charnysh, along with co-author Brendan McElroy, investigate the institutional origins of ethnic bias in distributive politics. They ask how varied governance practices toward different societal groups, adopted at early stages in state development, shape state capacity and public goods provision in the long run. Using subnational data from imperial Russia, the authors show that when ethnic minorities are ruled indirectly, their social practices remain illegible to the state. Lower legibility, in turn, weakens the state’s ability to extract revenues and reduces its incentives to allocate resources to the minority population.