The Origins and Persistence of Discriminatory Institutions and Ideologies

31 Pages Posted: 10 May 2023

See all articles by Jayme S. Lemke

Jayme S. Lemke

Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Date Written: May 7, 2023


Robert Higgs’ work has great significance for understanding the role of state power in the economic and political oppression of social groups targeted for discrimination. In this chapter, I draw three themes from Higgs’ work that can be applied to better understand the nature, function, and persistence of discriminatory institutional environments. First, institutional environments are comprised of both publicly and privately organized rule schema. As such, understanding a discriminatory institutional environment requires understanding the interaction between public discriminatory law and private discriminatory social norms. Second, institutions are defined in part by the competitive landscape they exist within. Market competition and political competition are both critical to understanding the nature of discriminatory oppression and how it might abate or become further entrenched. Third, ideology plays an important role in shaping and maintaining racially discriminatory policies and practices, and cannot be set to the side for the sake of simplifying analysis. The chapter concludes with potential directions for future scholarship.

Keywords: Robert Higgs, racial discrimination, ideology, public choice, U.S. economic history, Reconstruction Era

JEL Classification: D72, D73, J15, N31

Suggested Citation

Lemke, Jayme S., The Origins and Persistence of Discriminatory Institutions and Ideologies (May 7, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Jayme S. Lemke (Contact Author)

Mercatus Center at George Mason University ( email )

4400 University Drive, PPE 1A1
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

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