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Humanities Brown Bag Seminar

Thursday, May 25, 2023
12:00pm to 1:00pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
Property Rights and State Formation in Europe
Tracy Dennison, Edie and Lew Wasserman Professor of Social Science History; Ronald and Maxine Linde Leadership Chair, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Caltech,
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Abstract: How can we explain the significant divergence in economic growth and living standards between western and eastern Europe from the early modern period? An existing literature views the emergence of ‘inclusive institutions' as key. Inclusive institutions are those accessible to all members of a society (such as legal recourse for contracting disputes), in contrast to ‘extractive' or ‘particularized' institutions (such as guilds or communes) which are accessible to and benefit only a small subgroup. Inclusive institutions, specifically universal property rights and their enforcement, are associated in the literature with strong, centralized states; on this view, strong states are a pre-requisite for the establishment of property rights and legal mechanisms for their enforcement. But what if we've got it backwards? This talk compares the trajectories of Prussia and Russia from the 17th century and suggests that it may have been the existence of property rights and systems of law that enabled the emergence of centralized states in western Europe rather than the other way around. The very absence of these institutions in Russia kept the crown weak and beholden to other powerful actors – an equilibrium that persists to the present day.

For more information, please contact Mary Martin by phone at 626-395-4571 or by email at [email protected].