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

When Roving Bandits Settle Down: Club Theory and the Emergence of Government

How do a government arise from anarchy? In a classic article, Mancur Olson (1993) theorized that it could occur when a roving bandit decides to settle down. This stationary bandit comes to recognize an encompassing interest in its territory, improving its lot by providing governing and committing to stable rates of theft (taxation). The bandits highlighted by Olson (1993) are not individuals but rather groups organized to act collectively. I provide a club- theoretic (Buchanan 1965) analysis of bandits. I characterize the (actual or threats of) violence as a club good, i.e., one that is non-rival but from which out-group members can be excluded. I elaborate on the changes in the club’s group interest and in-group that will likely accompany the roving-to-stationary transition. To illustrate the salient points of the analysis, I provide a case study of the Visigoths: their emergence as a roving confederacy in the late fourth century, their migration and subsequent settlement, and the establishment of the Visigothic Kingdom.

A Theory of Self-Enforcing Monetary Constitutions with Reference to the Suffolk System, 1825-1858

with Alexander W. Salter

We develop a theory of self-enforcing monetary constitutions. A monetary constitution is the framework of rules within which money-providing and money-using agents interact. A self-enforcing monetary constitutions is upheld by the agents acting within the system; it thus does not require external enforcement. We describe how the institutional technology of polycentric sovereignty applies to monetary constitutions, and show how the 19th century Suffolk banking system was characterized by polycentric sovereignty, rendering its (de facto) monetary constitution self-enforcing. We conclude by briefly discussing the implications of our analysis for the role of the state in maintaining healthy money and banking systems.

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 Carolingians, the Church, & the Medieval Constitution

In the eighth century, Charles Martel confiscated Church property to make systematic, large-scale distributions to his vassals. This project was an investment in state capacity and the secularization of Church property was continued under Charles’ son Pippin III. Many scholars have characterized this development as the expansion of Carolingian (monarchical) authority at the expense of the Church and to the benefit of the lay nobility. I argue that a better characterization is one of constitutional bargains that, taken together, benefited the Church as well as the Carolingians and their noble vassals. This opportunity for mutually beneficial constitutional exchange arose because of a decrease in the importance of trade relative to landed wealth and the increased papal insecurity as a result of Muslim and Lombard threats. 

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.

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.