"Institutions, Property Rights, and Growth: Theory and Evidence from the End of East European Serfdom"
The predominant analysis of representative institutions in the development literature casts them as the guardians of property against governmental predation. By enforcing property rights, the story goes, representative assemblies stimulate investment, specialization, innovation, and other forms of socially beneficial economic activity. What this analysis overlooks is that property relations themselves sometimes come in conflict with the demands of development. The political prerequisites of growth, then, include the existence of some agency that is authorized, when necessary, not to uphold but instead to transform the established property rights regime. Using the agrarian reforms in later eighteenth century Eastern Europe as a case study, McElroy shows that only certain kinds of representative institutions can perform this function effectively. Success depends on a representative body's configuration of internal decision-making institutions, particularly the acceptance of simple majority voting. He tests these propositions by reconstructing the process of agrarian reform in the Russian Baltic province of Livonia between 1795 and 1804, using documents from Latvian, Russian, and Estonian archives. His findings underscore the importance of specific procedural rules, especially majority voting, in generating the "good" economic outcomes commonly attributed to early representative institutions as such.