Kling on Clans, North on States
By Art Carden
I just read Arnold Kling’s Featured Article on Mark S. Weiner’s The Rule of the Clan. On the strength of the review I bought the book. Here’s Kling’s summary of Weiner:
1. A decentralized order is possible. Indeed, it is natural for human societies to achieve such an order, rather than degenerate into the Hobbesian war of all against all.
2. The natural decentralized order is, however, highly illiberal. It requires a set of social norms that bind the individual to the clan. Under the rule of the clan, peace is broken by feuds, commerce is crippled by the inability to put trade with strangers on a contractual basis, and individual autonomy is sacrificed for group solidarity.
3. In the absence of a strong central state, the rule of the clan is the inevitable result. In order to graduate from the society of Status to the society of Contract, you must have a strong central state.
Like Kling, I’m willing to believe 1 and 2, but I find 3 unpersuasive (again, I haven’t read Weiner’s book yet). I’m reminded of the following from chapter 3 of Douglass C. North’s Structure and Change in Economic History, titled “A Neoclassical Theory of the State”:
“The existence of a state is essential for economic growth; the state, however, is the source of man-made economic decline.” (p. 20).
“For the economic historian, the key problems are to explain the kind of property rights that come to be specified and enforced by the state and to explain the effectiveness of enforcement; the most interesting challenge is to account for changes in the structure and enforcement of property rights over time.” (p. 21)
“The essence of property rights is the right to exclude, and an organization which has a comparative advantage in violence is in the position to specify and enforce property rights.” (p. 21)
North offered a powerful explanatory theory of the state, but even in spite of the fact that chapter 5 of Structure and Change in Economic History is titled “Ideology and the Free Rider Problem” and in spite of North’s later work (especially his 2009 book with John Wallis and Barry Weingast, Violence and Social Orders), we don’t have a complete understanding of what Daniel Klein called “The People’s Romance.” Co-blogger Bryan Caplan is right that people exhibit anti-foreign bias and that these biases are rooted in our tribal past, but I look forward to a more complete explanation of how these rules and norms have translated into not just a willingness to obey but an outright love for one’s government.