The legacy of representation in medieval Europe for incomes and institutions today

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Why can some governments credibly commit to the rule of law and protection of property rights while others cannot? A potential answer involves deep historical traditions of institutions that constrain rulers. We explore whether experiences with representative assemblies in medieval/early modern Europe have left their mark on incomes and institutions today. We employ Stasavage's (2010) data on representative assembly activity in 30 medieval/early modern European polities and the Putterman and Weil (2010) data on descendancy shares from circa 1500 populations to construct country-level measures of historical assembly experience. We find that assembly experience is positively correlated with a measure of the rule of law and property rights and the Polity IV index that emphasizes constraint. Our estimates imply an important advantage for countries with assembly experience – an increase in experience from zero to that of an average Stasavage country would improve the country's property rights score by nearly 1.5 points.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)414-448
Number of pages35
JournalSouthern Economic Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • growth and development
  • institutions
  • property rights
  • representative assemblies
  • rule of law


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