Research / BFI Working PaperJul 27, 2023

Constitutions and Order: A Theory and Evidence from Colombia and the United States

Leopoldo Fergusson, Javier Mejia, James Robinson, Santiago Torres

We propose a framework to explain why some societies may end up with different constitutional solutions to the problem of maintaining order in the face of self-interested behavior. Though the salient intellectual tradition since Hobbes has focused on how institutional design is used to eradicate violence, our framework illustrates that equilibrium constitutions may in fact have to deliberately allow for violence. This arises because some societies are unable to use institutions to influence income distribution. In this case, a constitutional tolerance of violence emerges as a credible way for an incumbent to meet the participation constraint of a challenger. We illustrate the results with the comparative constitutional history of the US and Colombia.

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