How the Structure of Legal Authority Affects Political Outcomes

50 Pages Posted: 4 May 2022

See all articles by Joseph Warren

Joseph Warren

University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Date Written: April 8, 2022


In the process of both European and American state development, legal institutions developed from many separate venues with overlapping jurisdictions to a hierarchical structure with authority concentrated in the lawmaking institutions of the state. How did this change in the structure of legal authority affect political competition among groups in society? This paper presents a formal model to show that concentrating legal authority increases incentives for competing groups to invest in political organization. In turn, this increases political inequality: as all groups invest more effort, groups with a resource advantage are better able to make use of their advantage. The model is consistent with a case comparison of 18th century Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, two British American colonies with contrasting legal structures, patterns of political organization, and legal outcomes. This paper contributes to our understanding of state development as well as ways in which the state structures contemporary politics.

Keywords: state formation; legal authority; the American state; formal model; contest function

Suggested Citation

Warren, Joseph, How the Structure of Legal Authority Affects Political Outcomes (April 8, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Joseph Warren (Contact Author)

University of Alaska, Fairbanks ( email )

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