Join us for three upcoming seminars on governance under colonial rule in Africa, the predatory theory of the state, and polycentric public reason. Our guests include Dr. Liya Palagashvili of the State University of New York and NYU, Dr. Ilia Murtazashvili of the University of Pittsburgh, and Dr. Brian Kogelmann of the University of Maryland.

Tuesday, 13 November: Comparative Governance Under Colonial Rule in Africa

Dr. Liya Palagashvili, State University of New York and NYU

Bush House North East Wing 1.02, 5-6:30PM


This paper analyzes how British colonial rule altered the club-like and competitive features of chiefdoms and weakened the incentives of political leaders to be accountable to citizens. Political institutions in late pre-colonial West Africa aligned the incentives of the chiefs such that they were responsive to their people. Alignment arose because of a high degree of competition between governance providers and because political leaders were effectively the residual claimants on revenues generated from providing governance services. I identify the mechanisms by which colonialism severed the link that aligned the incentives of government with those of its citizens. British indirect rule did that by reducing political competition and softening the budget constraints of the chiefs. Toward the end of colonial rule, chiefs became less accountable to their people as evidenced by the widespread corruption and extortion by the chiefs and by their unprecedented constitutional violations and abuses of power.

Thursday, 22 November: Wealth Destroying States

Dr. Ilia Murtazashvili, University of Pittsburgh

Bush House South East Wing 2.09, 4:30-6PM


The literature on the state can be divided into a contract perspective, which emphasizes that the state can more efficiently provide public goods, such as market institutions and collective defense, than smaller-scale political organizations, and the predatory theory, which contends that the state tends to destroy wealth rather than provide public goods, especially when assets are immobile and capturable. We extend the scope of the predatory theory of the state by explicitly considering how political institutions, self-governance, and foreign intervention influence the incentives of the state to create or to destroy wealth. Historical and fieldwork evidence from Afghanistan illustrates how political instability, centralization of state authority, and weak political constraints encouraged predation. Foreign intervention, including both foreign aid and foreign military presence, exacerbated the shortcomings of political institutions. Customary self-governance is a redoubt against the predatory state, but often lacks the capacity to defend communities against government predation.

Tuesday, 4 December: Polycentric Public Reason

Dr. Brian Kogelmann, University of Maryland

Bush House North East Wing 8.19, 5-6:30PM


Public reason liberalism is a normative theory holding that authoritative rules must, in some sense, be accepted or endorsed by persons living under them. Much debate about public reason takes place at an abstract level – little discussion occurs concerning what sorts of institutions best facilitate the goals of public reason. The thesis of my talk is that public reason liberalism is best served by a polycentric institutional arrangement that allows for robust self-governance, of the kind discussed in the work of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom. Not only is polycentricity the best realization of the goals of public reason liberalism, but thinking through features of polycentric institutional arrangements actually reveals compelling responses to major criticisms of the public reason research program. That said, the proposal under consideration is not without criticism. Though they have several desirable features, polycentric institutional frameworks do harbor some problems, most notably issues related to sorting and polarization. The talk will end by thinking through how to best respond to these sorts of worries.

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