Wallis Headshot

Event has been canceled

Moderated by: Eric Alston, Benson Center faculty fellow

About the Event

Recent commentators have questioned whether a capitalist economic system is fundamentally inconsistent with a democratic political system. What history shows is over the last two centuries is that the presence of elections and a growing capitalist economy are not closely related to one another.  On the other hand, advanced democracies with broad, secure political and civil rights are closely associated with vibrant capitalist economies where individuals are free to pursue what they see to be their most valuable uses.  The talk will explain how and why advanced democratic capitalisms first appeared in the late 19th century, and the central role of impersonal rules -- rules that apply equally to all citizens -- played in their transformation. 

About the Speaker

John Wallis is Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is economic historian and institutional economist whose research focuses on the dynamic interaction of political and economic institutions over time. An American economic historian, he collected large data sets on government finances and on state constitutions. His early research focused on the New Deal, and then his focus shifted to research on the early 19th century, the collapse of state government finances in the 1840s, and the constitutional changes in states that followed. Over the last two decades his research has expanded to cover a longer period, wider geography, and more general questions of how societies use institutions of economics and politics to solve the problem of controlling violence and, in some situations, sustaining economic growth. He published Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History with Douglass North and Barry Weingast, Cambridge University Press, 2009 and In the Shadow of Violence: Politics, Economics, and the Problem of Development, edited with Douglass North, Steven Webb, and Barry Weingast, CUP, 2013. He edited Organizations, Civil Society, and the Roots of Development, with Naomi Lamoreaux.  Chicago: NBER/University of Chicago Press, 2017. In the 2022/23 academic year he was the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at Cambridge University, and from 2018 to 2023 he was the Mancur Olson Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland. He is currently working on a new book examining the emergence of impersonal rules: Leviathan Denied: Rules, Organizations, and Governments. 

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