The limits of liberalism: Good boundaries must be discovered

ADAM MARTIN

THE REVIEW OF AUSTRIAN ECONOMICS

Abstract: Determining good boundaries for governance jurisdictions is among the most difficult problems in political theory and political philosophy. But to whom the rules of a given jurisdiction applies is a problem that afflicts private as well as public governance. Clubs have boundaries no less than cities, states, or nations. This essay applies Hayek’s conception of competition as a discovery procedure to boundary problems, arguing that good jurisdictional boundaries are subject to a great deal of contingent variation according to particular the conditions of time and place. Philosophical speculation, therefore, cannot fully replace a trial and error process that facilitates social learning about where good boundaries fall. I outline the features of good boundaries that make them subject to such variation, then evaluate two criteria for evaluating whether existing jurisdictional boundaries are good: one that emphasizes ex ante consent to boundaries, and one that focuses on the ability of individuals to exit from jurisdictions ex post, arguing that the exit-focused approach is underappreciated.

Trade, Power, and Political Economy: Reason vs. Ideology in Edward Stringham’s Private Governance

RICHARD WAGNER

THE REVIEW OF AUSTRIAN ECONOMICS

Abstract: In Private Governance: Creating Order in Economic and Social Life, Edward Stringham explains that private ordering is sufficient to secure full exploitation of gains from trade within a society. After describing the logic of Stringham’s claim on behalf of private ordering, the remainder of this essay examines an enigma that Stringham’s argument entails: private ordering is sufficient for social coordination and yet public ordering is ubiquitous. The exploitation of gains from trade might offer a useful ideology, but this provides but an incomplete basis for a theory of society. In this respect, societies are rife with antagonism and envy, though these often manifest themselves ideologically as claims about justice and fairness. Politics goes where the money is; private ordering reveals targets that public ordering subsequently exploits. The challenge for political economy is to integrate the autonomy of economizing action with the autonomy of political action, for these dual autonomies provide the crucible out of which emerges the material of political economy. Stringham has deepened our appreciation of what private governance can accomplish, but much unfinished analytical work confronts theorists of political economy.

Private Governance and the three biases of political philosophy

JASON BRENNAN

THE REVIEW OF AUSTRIAN ECONOMICS

Abstract: Private Governance shows that philosophers, political and legal theorists, and social scientists mistakenly believe in legal centralism, the view that order in the world depends upon and is made possible by state law. In fact, most governance not only happens to be private, but must be private. This paper extends Edward Stringham’s argument by claiming that philosophers tend to suffer from three biases. Diffidence bias means they are overly pessimistic about people’s willingness and ability to cooperate without state enforcement. Statism bias means the overestimate the degree to which cooperation is secured by the state. Guarantee bias means they overestimate the value and need for legal guarantees.

Adam Smith, Prophet of Law and Economics

PAUL G. MAHONEY

THE JOURNAL OF LEGAL STUDIES, Volume 46, Number 1

Abstract: Law and economics scholars do not normally identify Adam Smith as an important figure in the field. However, his Lectures on Jurisprudence contain a wealth of insights and analytical techniques that law and economics scholars of the late 20th century would repeat. This paper argues for Smith’s place in law and economics, identifying some of his most important arguments and emphasizing their contributions to legal theory. It also argues that economic arguments play a central role in Smith’s theory of justice. Indeed, Smith’s jurisprudence provides an important bridge between his moral and economic theories.

Narrative Economics

ROBERT J. SHILLER

THE AMERICAN ECONOMIC REVIEW, Volume 107, Number 4

Abstract: This address considers the epidemiology of narratives relevant to economic fluctuations. The human brain has always been highly tuned toward narratives, whether factual or not, to justify ongoing actions, even such basic actions as spending and investing. Stories motivate and connect activities to deeply felt values and needs. Narratives “go viral” and spread far, even worldwide, with economic impact. The 1920–1921 Depression, the Great Depression of the 1930s, the so-called Great Recession of 2007–2009, and the contentious political-economic situation of today are considered as the results of the popular narratives of their respective times. Though these narratives are deeply human phenomena that are difficult to study in a scientific manner, quantitative analysis may help us gain a better understanding of these epidemics in the future.

Are individualistic societies less equal? Evidence from the parasite stress theory of values

BORIS NIKOLAEV

JOURNAL OF ECONOMIC BEHAVIOR & ORGANIZATION, Volume 138

Abstract: It is widely believed that individualistic societies, which emphasize personal freedom, award social status for accomplishment, and favor minimal government intervention, are more prone to higher levels of income inequality compared to more collectivist societies, which value conformity, loyalty, and tradition and favor more interventionist policies. The results in this paper, however, challenge this conventional view. Drawing on a rich literature in biology and evolutionary psychology, we test the provocative Parasite Stress Theory of Values, which suggests a possible link between the historical prevalence of infectious diseases, the cultural dimension of individualism–collectivism and differences in income inequality across countries. Specifically, in a two-stage least squares analysis, we use the historical prevalence of infectious diseases as an instrument for individualistic values, which, in the next stage, predict the level of income inequality, measured by the net GINI coefficient from the Standardized World Income Inequality Database (SWIID). Our findings suggest that societies with more individualistic values have significantly lower net income inequality. The results are robust even after controlling for a number of confounding factors such as economic development, legal origins, religion, human capital, other cultural values, economic institutions, and geographical controls.

Over-incarceration and disenfranchisement

MURAT C. MUNGAN

PUBLIC CHOICE

Abstract: This article presents a model wherein law enforcers propose sentences to maximize their likelihood of reelection, and shows that elections typically generate over-incarceration, i.e., longer than optimal sentences. It then studies the effects of disenfranchisement laws, which prohibit convicted felons from voting. The removal of ex-convicts from the pool of eligible voters reduces the pressure politicians may otherwise face to protect the interests of this group, and thereby causes the political process to push the sentences for criminal offenses upwards. Therefore, disenfranchisement further widens the gap between the optimal sentence and the equilibrium sentence, and thereby exacerbates the problem of over-incarceration. Moreover, this result is valid even when voter turnout is negatively correlated with people’s criminal tendencies, i.e., when criminals vote less frequently than non-criminals.