Political Coase Theorem

53 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2003

See all articles by Francesco Parisi

Francesco Parisi

University of Minnesota - Law School; University of Bologna; University of Miami, School of Law


This article considers the applicability of the Coase theorem (in both its positive and normative formulations) to the political market. The article analogizes the choice of decision rules in the political market to the choice of legal rules in the traditional Coase theorem and further analogizes alternative initial coalitions to the different initial allocations of entitlements considered by Coase (1960). On the basis of these analogies, the paper examines the relevance (or lack thereof) of alternative voting rules and initial coalitions on the final political outcome. The article further shows that, if all voters are allowed to enter into Coasian bargaining over the policy outcome to be adopted by the majority coalition (i.e., if political bargains are possible and are enforceable), uniqueness and stability are obtained. The analysis of the axiomatic Nash bargaining equilibrium yields an interesting geometric intuition. If voters have similar utility functions centered around different ideal policy points, the Coasian bargaining will be conducive to the center of mass of the policy space, which weighs the agents' preferences as revealed in the bargaining process. Such ideal equilibrium satisfies most criteria of social welfare. The article concludes considering the various practical limits of this ideal political market, whenever collective action and agency problems affect the political bargaining in a representative or direct democracy.

Suggested Citation

Parisi, Francesco, Political Coase Theorem. Public Choice, Vol. 115, Nos. 1-2, pp. 1-36, April 2003, George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 01-05, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=262025 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.262025

Francesco Parisi (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Law School ( email )

229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

University of Bologna ( email )

Piazza Scaravilli 1
40126 Bologna, fc 47100

University of Miami, School of Law ( email )

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