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Constitutional stability


  • Peter Ordeshook


Political scientists in the pluralist tradition disagree sharply with public and social choice theorists about the importance of institutions and with William Riker in particular, who argues inLiberalism against Populism that the liberal institutions of indirect democracy ought to be preferred to those of populism. This essay reconsiders this dispute in light of two ideas unavailable to Riker at the time. The first, offered by Russell Hardin, is that if we conceptualize constitutions as coordinating devices rather than as social contracts, then we can develop a more satisfying view of the way in which constitutions become self-enforcing. The second idea derives from the various applications of concepts such as the uncovered set. Briefly, although institutions such as the direct election of president are subject to the usual instabilities that concern social choice theorists, those instabilities do not imply that “anything can happen” —instead, final outcomes will be constrained, where the severity of those constraints depends on institutional details. We maintain that these ideas strengthen Riker's argument about the importance of such constitutional devices as the separation of powers, bicameralism, the executive veto, and scheduled elections, as well as the view that federalism is an important component of the institutions that stabilize the American political system. We conclude with the proposition that the American Civil War should not be regarded as a constitutional failure, but rather as a success. Copyright George Mason University 1992

Suggested Citation

  • Peter Ordeshook, 1992. "Constitutional stability," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 3(2), pages 137-175, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:copoec:v:3:y:1992:i:2:p:137-175 DOI: 10.1007/BF02393118

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. anonymous, 1982. "Overseas exchange transactions," Reserve Bank of New Zealand Bulletin, Reserve Bank of New Zealand, vol. 45, march.
    2. Norman Schofield, 1978. "Instability of Simple Dynamic Games," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 45(3), pages 575-594.
    3. Aaron Wildavsky, 1990. "A Double Security: Federalism as Competition," Cato Journal, Cato Journal, Cato Institute, vol. 10(1), pages 39-58, Spring/Su.
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    Cited by:

    1. Stefan Voigt, 1996. "Pure eclecticism—The tool kit of the constitutional economist," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 7(3), pages 177-196, September.
    2. Pierre Salmon, 1999. "Ordinary elections and constitutional arrangements
      [Elections ordinaires et aménagements constitutionnels]
      ," Working Papers hal-01526528, HAL.
    3. Knoll Bodo & Koenig Andreas, 2011. "Leviathan Europa – Stärkung der Nationalstaaten und der EU durch konstitutionelle Schranken?," Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftspolitik, De Gruyter, vol. 60(2), pages 127-145, August.
    4. Voigt, Stefan, 2011. "Empirical constitutional economics: Onward and upward?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 80(2), pages 319-330.
    5. Leeson, Peter T. & Suarez, Paola A., 2016. "An economic analysis of Magna Carta," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(S), pages 40-46.
    6. Alexander Salter, 2015. "Sovereignty as exchange of political property rights," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 165(1), pages 79-96, October.
    7. Barry R. Weingast, 2005. "The Constitutional Dilemma of Economic Liberty," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(3), pages 89-108, Summer.

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