Here are titles, abstracts, and links to my most recent working papers. (Check back often; more are always on the way!)

The Legacy of Representation in Medieval Europe for Incomes and Institutions Today

with Jamie Bologna Pavlik

Why can some governments credibly commit to the rule of law and protection of property rights while others cannot? A potential answer involves deep historical traditions of institutions that constrain rulers. We explore whether experiences with representative assemblies in medieval/early modern Europe have left their mark on incomes and institutions today. We employ Stasavage’s (2010) data on representative assembly activity in 30 medieval/early modern European polities and the Putterman and Weil (2010) data on descendancy shares from circa 1500 populations to construct country-level measures of historical assembly experience. In a cross-country analysis, we find that assembly experience is positively and significantly correlated with current incomes, a measure of the rule of law and property rights, and the Polity IV index that emphasizes executive constraint. Once the latter two variables are controlled for, the estimated effect of assembly experience on current incomes is insignificant. However, the correlation between assembly experience and either institutional measure is robust to controlling for (among other variables) current income levels, 1500 income levels, human capital levels, and two different measures of general European influence.

Medieval Representative Assemblies: Collective Action and Antecedents of Limited Government

with Alexander W. Salter

Medieval monarchs in Western Europe responded to financial and military pressures by instituting representative assemblies. Three estates (classes; orders) were represented in these assemblies: clergy, nobility, and burghers. In the late medieval and early modern periods, some states tended towards absolutism (e.g., France); others towards constitutional monarchy (e.g., England). The German historian Otto Hintze conjectured that territorially based assemblies were more likely to resist monarchical encroachments on their political authority than estate-based assemblies. We argue that Hintze’s conjecture can be made intelligible by a comparative institutional analysis emphasizing political bargaining and the costs of special versus common interests. Having established that territorially based assemblies provided a stronger check on absolutism than their estate-based counterparts, we then provide historical case studies of how France and England instituted, respectively, estate-based and territorially based assemblies.

Polycentric Sovereignty: The Medieval Constitution, Governance Quality, and the Wealth of Nations

with Alexander W. Salter

It is widely accepted that good institutions caused the massive increase in living standards enjoyed by ordinary people over the past two hundred years. But what caused good institutions? Scholars once pointed to the polycentric governance structures of medieval Europe, but this explanation has been replaced by arguments favoring state capacity. Here we revitalize the ‘polycentric Europe’ hypothesis. We argue that the state capacity hypothesis cannot actually be a satisfactory social scientific explanation, because it ‘punts’ on the difficult questions of information-generation and incentive-alignment. We develop a new institutional theory, based on political property rights and what we call polycentric sovereignty, which explains how the medieval patrimony resulted in the requisite background conditions for good governance, and hence widespread social wealth creation.