The limits of liberalism: Good boundaries must be discovered



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



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



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.

The time inconsistency of long constitutions: Evidence from the world



Abstract: This article analyses the mechanisms establishing time consistency of constitutions. It explains why shorter and more locked constitutions are more likely to be time consistent (change less) and that long constitutions are more time inconsistent (change more, despite locking). Empirical evidence from all of the democratic countries in the world indicates that the length and locking of constitutions are not independent criteria, and that their combination leads to less time consistency. To address this inter-relationship, a measure of time inconsistency (a combination of locking and amendment rate) is developed and it is demonstrated that it is connected with the length of constitutions. The article shows how time inconsistency is incompatible with theories of ‘constitutional amendment culture’ not only at the theoretical level, but also empirically. Finally, the article proves that the empirical finding that the length of constitutions is related to lower per capita income and higher corruption are not only in agreement with time inconsistency arguments, but this also extends beyond OECD countries to all democracies.


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



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



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.

North and south: long-run social mobility in England and attitudes toward welfare



Abstract: In this paper, we examine the long-run social mobility experience in England. We present evidence for surprisingly constant levels of social mobility over the period 1550–1749, despite huge structural changes. Examining regional differences, we show that the North of England exhibited higher rates of social mobility than the South. We link this to the hypothesis that historically high levels of social mobility can lead to a culture of non-acceptance of redistribution and welfare provision. Taking advantage of the fact that welfare provision was determined at the local level at the time, we are able to compare social mobility rates and welfare spending within a single country. Consistent with the hypothesis, we find evidence for historically higher levels of social mobility as well as lower welfare spending and less acceptance of redistribution in the North.