What are the origins of constrained government? How did globalisation influence politics in Victorian Britain, and are there lessons for modern times? In this episode of the Governance Podcast, Gary Cox (Stanford) sits down with Anton Howes (King’s College London) to discuss his corpus of research in economic history and political economy from the 17th through the 19th centuries.

Subscribe on iTunes and Spotify

Subscribe to the Governance Podcast on iTunes and Spotify today and get all our latest episodes directly in your pocket.

Follow Us

For more information about our upcoming podcasts and events, follow us on facebook, twitter or instagram (@csgskcl).

The Guest

Gary W. Cox is the William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. In addition to numerous articles in the areas of legislative and electoral politics, Cox is author of The Efficient Secret (winner of the 1983 Samuel H Beer dissertation prize and the 2003 George H Hallett Award), co-author of Legislative Leviathan (winner of the 1993 Richard F Fenno Prize), author of Making Votes Count (winner of the 1998 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, the 1998 Luebbert Prize and the 2007 George H Hallett Award); and co-author of Setting the Agenda (winner of the 2006 Leon D. Epstein Book Award). His most recent book is Marketing Sovereign Promises (2016).  A former Guggenheim Fellow, Cox was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2005. He received his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology in 1983.

Skip Ahead

2:38: There’s a book of yours from 1987, The Efficient Secret: The Cabinet and the Development of Political Parties in Victorian England. Could you summarize the thesis of that book?

10:37: You seem to have returned to that theme in your book on the US House of Representatives. Are you building up a corpus of case studies?

12:20: Sounds like things were particularly difficult in the eighteenth century to get any law through, which makes it more surprising that you do actually get a lot of members’ bills… you needed an act of Parliament to suspend limits on limited liability, to have things like canals, railways and so on.

12:52: The idea of Whig-Tory is really just alignments of which kids you’re sitting with in the cafeteria more than there being a party structure.

13:30: Did MPs run on party manifestos or personal manifestos?

16:47: Do you think that’s a structural result of the Great Reform Act?

20:13: I guess a striking thing there is the electorate changes as well. You’ve got the parties changing, but voters themselves are now seeing MPs not as these individuals to vote for, but as just a member of a party.

21:25: What are the effects of that process? With greater party control and party boss control, what are the effects on lobbying? What are the kinds of legislation that you start to see?

26:18: Countries with different constitutional processes like the US and UK still end up dealing with modern political questions rather similarly. They’re facing similar exogenous or external shocks to their political systems. What do you think are the sources of those external shocks across different countries?

27:46: Is that potentially similar to what happened in the Victorian era when you have that first big wave of globalisation? I’m interested in the fact that you said there’s this change affecting Britain between the 1830s-80s… then you’ve got this almost identical thing happening in the United States after the civil war from the 1860s through the 1890s. Is there something similar going on with exogenous shocks forcing these changes?

33:07: That’s a very interesting case, this idea that you’ve got this disenfranchised group who are seemingly enfranchised, or at least some of their representatives are enfranchised with the Reform Act, but it’s not quite coming to fruition.

40:23: Around when you came to Stanford, you joined your colleagues North and Weingast and started publishing in a similar vein to what they’d been doing. The classic paper was the 1989 one, Constitutions and Commitment. You’ve had quite a body of research building on that work.

56:11: I really like this idea of the state being split in half because it also explains why you have this idea of these ancient English liberties being maintained throughout this period, and really that’s just talking about the civil list being constrained whereas at the same time you have the extraordinary growth of the British state.