Abstracts from "A Research Agenda for New Institutional Economics" II

By Claude Ménard and Mary M. Shirley

In previous posts, we presented a brief summary and abstracts of three chapters of our forthcoming volume.* The table of contents can be found here. Here are three more abstracts of chapters to give a flavor of the book.

What's Next for the Study of Nondemocracy?

Scott Gehlbach (University of Wisconsin–Madison)

The vast majority of the world's population has always had limited access to political (and economic) institutions. Yet until recently the overwhelming share of intellectual effort in political economy, if not always new institutional economics, was devoted to the study of mature democracies. This imbalance has begun to be reversed, and with vigor. Much of the contemporary literature on nondemocracy falls into two broad areas of inquiry: a) the analysis of formal institutions such as elections, parties, and legislatures, and b) the study of autocratic control, typically through the manipulation of beliefs. Scholars of NIE will recognize in this characterization a familiar divide between formal institutions, on the one hand, and social norms and beliefs, on the other. Looking ahead, the most promising opportunities for research lie in a truly comparative analysis of the formal institutions of nondemocracy and the study of how formal and informal institutions interact.

Questions of Property Rights

Dominic Parker (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

The study of property rights lies at the heart of institutional economics and has been the subject of much seminal research. But many old research questions demand new answers. Why and when do property rights emerge? What role does or should the state play in the creation and evolution of property rights? I argue there is no static answer to these questions. Novel technologies and production processes, combined with modern global demand shocks, have created pressures for new definitions of property rights and opened new research opportunities. For example, rising demand for sand has led to sand mafias in India, brutally defending their control rights, while the greater value being placed on pristine environments is challenging old “use it or lose it” rules. To understand and predict institutional responses moving forward, the field will need a new cadre of creative and dedicated scholars employing new theory, applications, and empirical tests.

New media, new issues

Francesco Sobbrio (LUISS "Guido Carli" & CESifo)

The creation of the Internet and the consequent dramatic expansion in the number and types of news sources has revived interest in the role of news media while posing novel research questions. There are several open research questions in the political economy of new media. What role do they play in the spread of “fake-news”? What are their effects on voters’ beliefs, behavior and on the overall level of ideological polarization? What is their impact on citizens’ trust in experts and democratic institutions? Furthermore, we still need to fully understand to what extent new media and digital platforms represent tools to overthrow autocracies or, rather, whether they provide new propaganda and surveillance instruments for such regimes.

*A Research Agenda for New Institutional Economics, Claude Ménard and Mary M. Shirley, eds., Edward Elgar Publishers, forthcoming in 2018.