Barry R. Weingast


Barry R. Weingast is the Ward C. Krebs Family Professor, Department of Political Science, and a Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution. He chaired 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 interaction of politics and economics, emphasizing the political foundations of markets, constitutions and democracy, and the political-economics of development. He has written extensively on problems of federalism and decentralization, legal institutions and the rule of law, regulation, and democracy.

  • Descriptions of Weingast’s current research can be found HERE.
  • Working papers can be found HERE.
  • Resting papers (i.e., papers I wish I’d published) can be found HERE.
  • Recent publications can be found HERE. 
  • His most reprinted papers can be found HERE.
  • Weingast’s “Caltech Rules for Writing Papers” can be found HERE.

Recent Events

Douglass C. North, 1920-2015

With the passing of Doug North Monday night, the world lost one of the great economists of the last century. Doug was known for his intense curiosity and his relentless – and even mischievous – pursuit of new ideas. He was a great friend, colleague, and coauthor, and I’ll miss him terribly.

Doug was never satisfied with his ideas, always pushing to expand his understanding and knowledge.

Most academics are lucky if they participate in one revolution in their field. Doug was at the forefront of several.

His first book, The Economic Growth of the United States, 1790-1860 (1960), helped foster the revolution that came to be known as the “new economic history,” the application of frontier economics to the study problems of the past. He and Bob Fogel were awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics (1993) largely for for their leadership in this new research program.

But Doug understood that the neoclassical economics on which he was raised was inadequate to address the problems he sought to answer, namely, why are a few countries rich while most remain poor, some in dire poverty? Much of his best work addressed this question, including his next four books.

Doug launched his findings in a book with Lance Davis, Institutional Change and American Economic History (1971). With Robert Thomas, he wrote The Rise of the Western World (1973), which began his exploration of the role of rights and institutions in political-economics of development. Arguably his best book, Structure and Change in Economic History (1981), dug deeper into the problem of development, providing the beginning of the Northian approach to understanding institutions. Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance (1990) represents the culmination of this research path and remains the premier statement of the profound role played by institutions in economic, political, and social realms of action. This work has been cited more than 41,000 times in academic research. Twenty-five years later, economists, political scientists, and sociologists continue to mine this rich line of research.

The next research turn went to the heart of human action, focusing on the limits of the economists’ assumption of rational choice. In Understanding the Process of Economic Change (2005), Doug drew on recent developments in cognitive science to expand our understanding of human choice and action.

His last book, coauthored with John Wallis and myself, developed a new approach to thinking about the problem of development. Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (2009), highlights the role of violence. Needless to say, I will leave it to others to evaluate the merits of this work.

I have a large range of personal memories of Doug as friend and scholar. He always wanted to learn more, and had a rare knack for listening to the ideas of others. He spent the academic year, 1987-88 at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. During this period, we completed our first paper, “Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of the Institutions of Governing Public Choice in 17th Century England.” This paper proposed a new approach to thinking about the role of Constitutions in securing the role of government in promoting long-term economic growth.

Never a fan of the growing mathematization of economics, Doug told me when he arrived at Stanford in 1987 that he didn’t like all the game theory being used at Stanford to study economics, but since Stanford was known for it, he wanted to learn more. He asked me to set up some lunches where he and I met with some of the prominent game theorists. The two of us really hit it off with one, Paul Milgrom. Paul impressed Doug, not only for his brilliance, but for his attitude about economics and research more generally. In discussing the role of mathematics in economics, Paul said, “first we get the economics right, then we build the models.” This suited Doug’s philosophy, and he (and I) were seduced into a collaboration that produced our joint paper on the medieval “Law Merchant” (1990), a paper seeking to understand the role of law and judges prior to the rise of the nation state with an ability to enforce laws across a larger territory.

Beginning in the early 1990s, Doug and his wife, Elisabeth, began spending the winters at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. This gave us a period of close contact every year, allowing us to enjoy one another’s company and to pursue our collaboration.

Doug was at Stanford Hospital, for a problem in 2013. I sat with him talking and joking when one of the Hospital’s chaplains walked in. He introduced himself and said to Doug that he was here to see that Doug was “on the mend,” on the “up and up,” and so on. Doug said nothing for a while, just staring at the Chaplain who continued to spout platitudes, and, I thought, wondering whether Doug was sentient. At some point Doug said in an authoritative voice, “Listen, Bub, there’s only one way out of this life.” The chaplain was clearly taken aback, saying, “oh, I see, oh, I see — well yes – oh, I see,” and then left.

This Thanksgiving I’ll give thanks for the many years I enjoyed his friendship and collaboration. All our best to Elisabeth.


Earlier events

  • The Inaugural Elinor and Vincent Ostrom Memorial Lecture, Barry R. Weingast, “The Violence Trap: Why Democracy and Rule of Law Fail in the Developing World.” Elinor and Vincent Ostrom Workshop, University of Indiana, Bloomington, February 11, 2015. An article summarizing the event and lecture can be found HERE.
  • Sir Douglass Myers Distinguished Visiting Professor (April 2015); and Dean’s Distinguished Speakers Lecture Series, “The Violence Trap: The Failure of Democracy and Rule of Law in the Developing World.” Auckland University, Auckland, New Zealand, April 23, 2015. An article summarizing the event and lecture can be found HERE.

Representative published papers include the following:

  • Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in 17th Century England” (with Douglass C. North). Journal of Economic History. (December 1989) 49: 803-32.
  •  “The Economic Role of Political Institutions: Market-Preserving Federalism and Economic Development.Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization (Spring 1995) 11: 1-31.
  •  “The Industrial Organization of Congress; or Why Legislatures, Like Firms, Are Not Organized as Markets” (with William J. Marshall), Journal of Political Economy 96 (February 1988): 132-63.
  •  “The Political Economy of Benefits and Costs: A Neoclassical Approach to Distributive Politics” (with Kenneth A. Shepsle and Christopher Johnsen). Journal of Political Economy 89 (August 1981), pp. 642-664.
  •  “Bureaucratic Discretion or Congressional Control? Regulatory Policymaking by the FTC” (with Mark J. Moran). Journal of Political Economy 91 (October 1983), pp. 765-800.
  •  “The Political Foundations of Democracy and the Rule of Law.” American Political Science Review (June 1997) 91: 245-63.
  • Federalism as a Commitment to Preserving Market Incentives” (with Yingyi Qian), Journal of Economic Perspectives (Fall 1997) 11: 83-92.
  • Administrative Procedures as Instruments of Political Control” (McNollgast — with Mathew D. McCubbins and Roger G. Noll), Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 3 (Fall 1987): 243-77.
  • Structure and Process, Politics and Policy: Administrative Arrangements and the Political Control of Agencies” (McNollgast — with Mathew D. McCubbins and Roger Noll), Virginia Law Review 75 (March 1989): 431-82.
  •  “The Role of Institutions in the Revival of Trade: The Medieval Law Merchant, Private Judges, and the Champagne Fairs” (with Paul R. Milgrom and Douglass C. North) Economics and Politics (March 1990) 2: 1-23.
  •  “Federalism, Chinese Style: The Political Basis for Economic Success in China” (with Gabriella Montinola and Yingyi Qian), World Politics (October, 1995) 48: 50-81.
  • Regional decentralization and fiscal incentives: Federalism, Chinese style” (with Hehui Jin and Yingyi Qian) Journal of Public Economics (2005) 89(9): 1719-1742.
  • Coordination, commitment, and enforcement: The case of the merchant guild” (with Avner Greif and Paul Milgrom), Journal of Political Economy (1994) 102: 745-776.
  • Second generation fiscal federalism: The implications of fiscal incentivesJournal of Urban Economics (2009) 65(3): 279-293.
  • The institutional foundations of committee power“ (with Kenneth A. Shepsle), American Political Science Review (1987) 81: 85-104.
  • The Positive Political Theory of Legislative History: New Perspectives on the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its Interpretation” (with Daniel B. Rodriguez). University of Pennsylvania Law Review (April, 2003) 151(4): 1417-1542.
  • What is Law? A Coordination Model of the Characteristics of Legal Order” (with Gillian K. Hadfield) Journal of Legal Analysis. (2012) 4(1): 1-44.
  • Self-Enforcing Constitutions: With An Application to Democratic Stability in America’s First Century” (with Sonia Mittal). Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization (2013) 29(2): 278-302.
  • Rationality, Inaccurate Mental Models, and Self-Confirming Equilibrium: A New Understanding of the American Revolution” (with Rui J.P. de Figueiredo, Jr., and Jack Rakove) Journal of Theoretical Politics (Oct. 2006) 18: 384-415.
  • Self-Enforcing Federalism,” (with Rui J.P. de Figueiredo, Jr.). Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization. (April, 2005) 21: 103-35.

Among Weingast’s books are:

  • Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (with Douglass C. North and John Joseph Wallis). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Korean Political and Economic Development: Crisis, Security, and Institutional Rebalancing (with Jongryn Mo). Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Asia Center, 2013.
  • In the Shadow of Violence: The Problem of Development for Limited Access Order Societies  (with Douglass C. North, John Joseph Wallis, and Steven B. Webb). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
  • Analytic Narratives (with Robert H. Bates, Avner Greif, Margaret Levi, and Jean-Laurent Rosenthal). Princeton University Press, 1998.
  • The Oxford Handbook of Political Economy (editor, with Donald Wittman), Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Preferences and Situations: Points of Contact between Historical and Rational Choice Institutionalisms (editor, with Ira Katznelson). New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2005.

A complete list of his books can be found HERE.

Weingast has received numerous awards, including:

  • The James L. Barr Memorial Prize in Public Economics, 1981;
  • The William H. Riker Prize in Political Science, 2006;
  • The Heinz Eulau Prize (with Kenneth Shepsle) for the best paper of the year in the American Political Science Review, 1987;
  • The Franklin L. Burdette Pi Sigma Alpha Award (with Kenneth Schultz) for the best paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Political Science Association, 1994;
  • Duncan Black Prize for the best paper of the year in Public Choice (with Kenneth A. Shepsle), 1981;
  • Daniel Elazar Award for Distinguished Scholarly Contributions to the Study of Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations, 2012;
  • Distinguished Scholar Award in Public Policy, Martin School of Public Policy, University of Kentucky, 2001;
  • Mary Parker Follett Prize for the best paper in politics and history published (twice): (with Charles Stewart), 1994; and 1998;
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences.