European Historical Economics Society Conference,
Friday 6th September, 9am, Hong Kong Theatre
John Wallis, Leviathan Denied: Coordination, Coercion, Rules, and the Nature of Government
Over the last two centuries, a relatively small number of societies have managed to create and enforce a set of impersonal rules: rules that treat everyone the same. While no society has universally impersonal rules, the few that have managed to create a core of impersonal rules appear to undergo a profound transformation in the way their governments interact with the economy and larger society. The traditional social science, legal, and historical approach to rules assumes that rule following ultimately involves a threat of violence: coercion. Societies capable of enforcing impersonal rules on everyone must, therefore, have governments capable of coercing even their most powerful citizens (elites). We think this emphasis on the coercive power of governments, the Weberian monopoly on violence, leads us to miss critical elements in how societies develop the ability to create and enforce impersonal rules. Rather than thinking of rules only as constraints backed by a coercive threat, we explore how rules often operate purely as coordinating arrangements for economic and other relationships, particularly for arrangements among elites. Under certain conditions, powerful elite organizations may find it in their interest to concede to the government the ability to enforce impersonal rules. The quasi-voluntary nature of rule following is based on the interests of elites. Rather than a powerful government imposing impersonal rules on powerful elites, the government’s monopoly on violence is the result of the benefits of elite coordination that can only be realized through impersonal rules.
JOHN WALLIS is Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is economic historian and institutional economist whose research focuses on the dynamic interaction of political and economic institutions over time. As an American economic historian, he collected large data sets on government finances and on state constitutions, and studied how political and economic forces changed American institutions in the 1830s and 1930s. In the last decade his research has expanded to cover a longer period, wider geography, and more general questions of how societies use institutions of economics and politics to solve the problem of controlling violence and, in some situations, sustaining economic growth. He has recently published Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History with Douglass North and Barry Weingast, Cambridge University Press, 2009 and In the Shadow of Violence: Politics, Economics, and the Problem of Development, edited with Douglass North, Steven Webb, and Barry Weingast, CUP, 2013. He is currently working on a new book with Douglass North examining the emergence of impersonal rules, tentatively titled Leviathan Denied: Coordination, Coercion, Governments, and the Nature of Rules.
With the financial support of the Royal Economic Society as part of its aim to promote the study of Economic Science.