This historical survey examines the relationship between proprietorship, state structure, and cultures of power, over the broad expanse of South Asian History. In doing so the focus is kept upon the major Indian empires (Maurya, Delhi Sultanate, Mughal, British). The paper maintains that in continental bureaucratic empires that manifest arbitrary cultures of power the rulers perceive the state and the country as a personal estate. Consequently, the level of insecurity even within the elite, which can be dispossessed by the ruler, is remarkably high. Pervasive insecurity means that the incentives to work, save, and invest, are greatly diminished, and the creativity and enterprise that sustain qualitative improvement in the economic and technological base are by and large lacking. This pattern manifests itself more or less consistently until the British period when, for a number of reasons, private property, the rule of law, and other reforms are introduced. A new dynamic gains momentum an the basis for a modern economy are laid.