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

Carolingians at the Doorsteps? The Maturing Limited Access Order of Early Medieval Europe

In Violence and Social Orders, North et al. (2009) argue that accounting for different development outcomes across societies involves understanding how they manage violence. They claim that almost all societies have been limited access orders where elites have claims to rents that are put at risk if violence is not constrained. Alternatively, in open access orders citizens broadly interact under the rule of law. Open access orders have been uniquely characterized by sustained development. Almost all of them are Western European or Western European offshoots. Why this is is an important question for researchers. According to North et al, the “doorsteps” to an open access order are (1) rule of law for elites, (2) support for perpetually lived organizations, and (3) the centralization and consolidation of violence. I argue Carolingian empire building in the eighth- and ninth-centuries moved Western Europe towards these doorsteps. I emphasize Carolingian distribution of confiscated/conquered lands to vassals, cultivation of bonds with the Church, and regularization of assemblies; also governance innovations that impersonalized relationships between elites and encouraged their enforcement under the rule of law.

with John Dove

Constitutional scholars have long argued the importance of an enduring and stable constitutional order. As an important example, North and Weingast (1989) argued that such an order is conducive to government credibly committing to sustainable fiscal policies. However, there is significant debate regarding the efficacy of such a constitutional order. As well, the empirical fact of the matter is that most (country-level or US state-level) constitutions are short lived. Still, the efficacy of such a constitutional order towards fiscal sustainability has received little empirical study. Within this paper we use nineteenth century US state-level data to estimate relationships between dimensions of constitutional design and the likelihood that a government defaults on its debt. The results indicate that more entrenched (rigid and enduring) and less specific/detailed constitutions are associated with a lower likelihood of default.

Medieval European Traditions in Representation and State Capacity Today

with Jamie Bologna Pavlik

Relatively rich economies seemed to have solved an important puzzle: the peaceful coincidence of well-functioning markets and the rule of law with high rates of taxation. We argue that an explanation for this can be found in the historical traditions of institutional constraint. We explore the link between the experiences of medieval and early modern representative assembly experiences and current measures of state capacity using cross-country data. We find that more assembly experience is associated with higher tax revenues and a smaller shadow economy. It is also associated with greater government control over violence and reduced military expenditures and personnel per-capita.

with Jamie Bologna Pavlik

We offer evidence of the role of continental orientation in the historical diffusion of technologies. Diamond (1997) argued that technologies spread more slowly North-South than East-West for two reasons. First, it was relatively costly for individuals to transport innovations when experiencing North-South variations in climate. Second, some innovations (e.g, selectively bred seeds) would have been less likely to survive North-South movements. Continents with East-West orientation, then, were characterized by less costly and/or more successful sharing of technologies. We employ Comin et al.’s (2010) data on ancient and early modern levels of technology adoption in a spatial econometric analysis. Historical levels of technology adoption in a (present-day) country are related to its lagged level as well as those of its neighbors. We allow the spatial effects to differ depending on whether they diffuse East-West or North-South. Consistent with the continental orientation hypothesis, East-West spatial effects are generally positive and stronger than those running North-South.

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.