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The Nature of Constitutions

21 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2000  

Mark F. Grady

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Michael T. McGuire

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Date Written: January 2000

Abstract

Following Thomas Hobbes, public-choice economists have theorized that constitutions arise from agreements among subordinates to establish private rules for their own transactions with each other. They then supposedly delegate to a sovereign the obligation to enforce these rules. The sovereign then violates the constitution by instituting wrong-headed rules to govern the subordinates' relations with each other. Instead, it seems more realistic to see constitutions as arising from subordinates' agreements with each other to resist excessive appropriations. An advanced constitution is a substitute for this original type of agreement, which only works well when the subordinates' numbers are small, as in some hunter-gatherer societies. An advanced constitution also limits a sovereign's appropriations, arises only from subordinates' threats of the sovereign, and marshals the sovereign's own instruments of force against him.

Suggested Citation

Grady, Mark F. and McGuire, Michael T., The Nature of Constitutions (January 2000). George Mason Law and Economics Working Paper No. 00-08. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=210108 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.210108

Mark F. Grady (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
310-206-1856 (Phone)

Michael T. McGuire

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

405 Hilgard Avenue
Box 951361 Neuropsychiatric Institute
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1361
United States

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