The Evolution of a Nation

The Evolution of a Nation: How Geography and Law Shaped the American States

Daniel Berkowitz
Karen B. Clay
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rjzv
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Evolution of a Nation
    Book Description:

    Although political and legal institutions are essential to any nation's economic development, the forces that have shaped these institutions are poorly understood. Drawing on rich evidence about the development of the American states from the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth century, this book documents the mechanisms through which geographical and historical conditions--such as climate, access to water transportation, and early legal systems--impacted political and judicial institutions and economic growth.

    The book shows how a state's geography and climate influenced whether elites based their wealth in agriculture or trade. States with more occupationally diverse elites in 1860 had greater levels of political competition in their legislature from 1866 to 2000. The book also examines the effects of early legal systems. Because of their colonial history, thirteen states had an operational civil-law legal system prior to statehood. All of these states except Louisiana would later adopt common law. By the late eighteenth century, the two legal systems differed in their balances of power. In civil-law systems, judiciaries were subordinate to legislatures, whereas in common-law systems, the two were more equal. Former civil-law states and common-law states exhibit persistent differences in the structure of their courts, the retention of judges, and judicial budgets. Moreover, changes in court structures, retention procedures, and budgets occur under very different conditions in civil-law and common-law states.

    The Evolution of a Nationillustrates how initial geographical and historical conditions can determine the evolution of political and legal institutions and long-run growth.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4054-0
    Subjects: Economics, Law, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Countries around the world exhibit striking differences in per capita income. For example, in 2008, income in the United States, Singapore, and Switzerland was roughly forty times higher than income in Nepal and Uganda. There are also differences within countries. In the United States in 2000 income in the state of Connecticut was almost twice as high as income in the state of Mississippi. In Russia, income in the city of Moscow was six and a half times higher than income in the neighboring Ivanovo oblast.¹ What drives the disparities?

    The disparities appear to be driven in part by political...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Legal Initial Conditions
    (pp. 16-59)

    This chapter examines colonial legal systems and their effects on the balance of power between the state legislature and the state high court. Why is the balance of power important? It is important because the balance of power determines the extent to which the state high court can act as a constraint on the legislature and the elites more broadly. Establishing and maintaining an appropriate balance of power has been and remains a critical issue at both the state and the federal levels.

    Civil law and common law had and still have different visions of the appropriate balance of power...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Initial Conditions and State Political Competition
    (pp. 60-91)

    This chapter investigates the relationship between five initial conditions in states—temperature, precipitation, distance to oceans, distance to rivers and lakes, and colonial legal system—and long-run levels of state political competition. State political competition is measured by examining the division of seats in the legislature between the political parties, although a number of other measures of state political competition are also examined. Figure 3.1 sketches some relationships between initial conditions and state political competition.¹

    We emphasize the importance of state political competition because it is thought to lead to better economic and social outcomes. Rodrik (1999) documented a strong...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Mechanism
    (pp. 92-132)

    Initial conditions associated with trade and agriculture appear to related to state political competition. Why and how would these initial conditions have had a persistent influence on political competition? This chapter argues that these initial conditions shaped the occupational distributions of early state elites who, in turn, influenced the subsequent evolution of state political competition. Figure 4.1 provides a summary of the relationships among initial conditions, occupational homogeneity of the elite, and state political competition. Initial conditions shaped the early comparative advantage of the state economy. For example, temperature and precipitation influenced whether early elites came from agriculture or other...

  8. CHAPTER 5 State Courts
    (pp. 133-168)

    This chapter and the next chapter examine how a state’s colonial legal system and levels of political competition in the state legislature shaped the independence of judges on the state high court. Figure 5.1 illustrates the basic relationships.

    The independence of judges in state high courts influences their behavior on the bench and thus economic and social outcomes. Using a sample of almost all state supreme court cases from 1995 to 1998, Shepherd (2009) found that judges facing Republican electorates in partisan reelections were “more likely to vote for businesses over individuals, for employers in labor disputes, for doctors and...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Legislatures and Courts
    (pp. 169-191)

    This chapter examines how colonial legal origin and political competition have shaped the funding of state courts. State judicial budgets are set by the state executive and legislative branches as part of a regular state budget exercise. Judicial budgets are used to pay for staff, facilities, and other resources such as professional experts who can evaluate complex cases, as well as judicial salaries. Fisher (1998) and Rosenburg (1991) have argued that the powers that governors and legislators have to shape judicial budgets serve as reasonable and useful checks on the judicial branch. However, governors and state legislatures may also use...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Institutions and Outcomes
    (pp. 192-202)

    This book has documented the persistence of state political and legal institutions, the mechanisms through which initial conditions acted on state political and legal institutions, and the reasons for persistence. The main reason that many scholars, including us, care about institutions and their persistence is because institutions affect outcomes.

    Although many different outcomes might be of interest, for simplicity we focus on state per capita income. It represents an important measure of total economic activity in a society. Courts and legislatures may have other objectives, but arguably one of their functions is to maximize the size of the societal pie...

  11. References
    (pp. 203-222)
  12. Index
    (pp. 223-234)