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The Evolution of a Nation:
How Geography and Law Shaped the American States
Daniel Berkowitz & Karen B. Clay

Hardcover | 2011 | $47.95 | £39.95 | ISBN: 9780691136042
240 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 58 line illus. 48 tables.
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Although political and legal institutions are essential to any nation's economic development, the forces that have shaped these institutions are poorly understood. Drawing on rich evidence about the development of the American states from the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth century, this book documents the mechanisms through which geographical and historical conditions--such as climate, access to water transportation, and early legal systems--impacted political and judicial institutions and economic growth.

The book shows how a state's geography and climate influenced whether elites based their wealth in agriculture or trade. States with more occupationally diverse elites in 1860 had greater levels of political competition in their legislature from 1866 to 2000. The book also examines the effects of early legal systems. Because of their colonial history, thirteen states had an operational civil-law legal system prior to statehood. All of these states except Louisiana would later adopt common law. By the late eighteenth century, the two legal systems differed in their balances of power. In civil-law systems, judiciaries were subordinate to legislatures, whereas in common-law systems, the two were more equal. Former civil-law states and common-law states exhibit persistent differences in the structure of their courts, the retention of judges, and judicial budgets. Moreover, changes in court structures, retention procedures, and budgets occur under very different conditions in civil-law and common-law states.

The Evolution of a Nation illustrates how initial geographical and historical conditions can determine the evolution of political and legal institutions and long-run growth.


"In this book, economists Berkowitz and Clay use variation across U.S. states as a sort of historical economic laboratory. Drawing on a wide array of quantitative and qualitative data sources, they lay out and document the connections among a number of geographic and climatic characteristics and the extent of political competition that emerged in each state. . . . This is an important contribution to the literature on institutional economics, economic history, and economic development."--Choice

"Berkowitz and Clay deserve considerable credit for taking up the difficult challenge of applying the ES (Engerman-Sokoloff) and AJR (Acemoglu-Johnson-Robinson) approach to the experience of U.S. states. Certainly anyone else contemplating something similar will need to study this book very carefully because they will have to grapple with some of the same issues faced by the authors. The book is timely, well written, and the authors have amassed an interesting body of data."--Robert A. Margo, EH.Net

"Berkowitz and Clay build a compelling empirical case for their broad argument. . . . The Evolution of a Nation is an important and useful work, one that will be of interest to economists, historians, and political scientists with an interest in American political and economic development."--Thomas Oatley, Journal of Regional Science

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Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments ix
Chapter One: Introduction 1
Chapter Two: Legal Initial Conditions 16 Chapter Three: Initial Conditions and State Political Competition 60
Chapter Four: The Mechanism 92
Chapter Five: State Courts 133
Chapter Six: Legislatures and Courts 169
Chapter Seven: Institutions and Outcomes 192
References 203
Index 223


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