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What are the paradoxes of economic development? How can we preserve liberal democracy in an era of populism and polarisation? In this episode of the Governance Podcast, Professor Barry Weingast of Stanford University joins Professor Mark Pennington of King’s College London for a conversation on the key lessons we’ve learned from the study of political economy.

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The Guest

Barry R. Weingast is the Ward C. Krebs Family Professor, Department of Political Science, and a Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution. He served as Chair of the Department of Political Science from 1996 through 2001. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Weingast’s research focuses on the political foundation of markets, economic reform, and regulation. He has written extensively on problems of political economy of development, federalism and decentralization, legal institutions and the rule of law, and democracy. Weingast is co-author of Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (with Douglass C. North and John Joseph Wallis, 2009, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) and Analytic Narratives (1998, Princeton). He edited (with Donald Wittman) The Oxford Handbook of Political Economy (Oxford University Press, 2006). Weingast has won numerous awards, including the William H. Riker Prize, the Heinz Eulau Prize (with Ken Shepsle), the Franklin L. Burdette Pi Sigma Alpha Award (with Kenneth Schultz), and the James L. Barr Memorial Prize in Public Economics.

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1:00 In response to the age old question, ‘why are some countries rich and others poor?’ you argue that some countries fail to develop because they are stuck in a ‘violence trap.’ What do you mean by that?

3:46: How does your explanation for the persistence of poverty differ from others?

6:08: How can developing countries escape from the violence trap?

7:50: Economists have often assumed that markets existed in societies before states began to interfere with them. You argue that markets don’t necessarily exist in many developing societies, but violence does. Why do so many economists have a different starting point?

9:43: In many ways, you’re arguing against the idea that markets are natural phenomena. You argue instead that markets have to be sustained within certain institutional conditions- but whether you actually get to those institutional conditions is the big question.

13:22: It’s not only markets that aren’t natural phenomena—democracy is also not a natural phenomenon. How can we build democracy where it doesn’t exist?

15:12: Is there anything that external bodies or national policies can recommend to help governments reduce the stakes of power?

17:35: How do you respond to Easterly’s arguments about foreign intervention?

18:52: Looking at your insights into early economic development in Europe, much of the good outcomes are unintended. Could we conclude that development isn’t something one can plan or design policy for?

21:48: What is an example of a democracy-promoting policy that isn’t just focused on creating elections?

23:23: What is the role of beliefs or moral attitudes in your framework?

25:55: Is there a role for political entrepreneurs to help societies out of their violence traps?

27:28: Do you see any implications of your research for contemporary events? Today we’re seeing a lot of ‘us versus them’ zero sum thinking. Can people find ways to discover mutual gains from cooperation in this environment?

30:25: What is the contemporary importance of your work on market-preserving federalism?

35:35: How can we explain the current shift in public opinion against market-preserving federalism across the west?

39:02: What are your future projects?