Barry R. Weingast

Senior Fellow
Awards and Honors:
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Biography: 

Barry R. Weingast is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Ward C. Krebs Family Professor in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University. He received a BS from the University of California, Santa Cruz (mathematics, 1974), and completed his PhD in economics at Caltech (1977). Weingast served as chair of Stanford’s Department of Political Science from 1996 through 2001.

Weingast is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has won numerous awards, including the James L. Barr Memorial Prize in Public Economics, the Duncan Black Prize for the best paper of the year on public choice (with Kenneth Shepsle), the Heinz Eulau Prize for best paper in the American Political Science Review (with Kenneth Shepsle), the Mary Parker Follett Prize for the best paper in politics and history (twice, once with Charles Stewart); the Distinguished Scholar Award in Public Policy from the Martin School of Public Policy at the University of Kentucky, the Franklin L. Burdette Pi Sigma Alpha Award (with Kenneth Schultz), and the William H. Riker Prize in recognition of scholarly achievement in political science.

Weingast has written extensively on the political economy of development, federalism, legal institutions and the rule of law, and democracy. He is author of

  • Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (with Douglass North and John Wallis, 2009, Cambridge University Press)
  • Editor (with Donald Wittman) of The Handbook of Political Economy (Oxford University Press, 2006)
  • “The Industrial Organization of Congress” (with William Marshall), Journal of Political Economy (1988)
  • "Structure and Process, Politics and Policy: Administrative Arrangements and the Political Control of Agencies" (with Mathew McCubbins and Roger Noll) Virginia Law Review (1989)
  • "Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in 17th Century England" (with Douglass North), Journal of Economic History (1989)
  • "The Economic Role of Political Institutions: Market-Preserving Federalism and Economic Development," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization (1995)
  • “The Political Foundations of Democracy and the Rule of Law," American Political Science Review (1997)
  • "Second Generation Fiscal Federalism: The Implications of Fiscal Incentives," Journal of Urban Economics (2009)

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Recent Commentary

Illustration by David Ridley

States' Rights--and Wrongs

by Barry R. Weingast, John Ferejohnvia Hoover Digest
Thursday, October 30, 1997

Republicans on Capitol Hill say they're determined to shove power out of Washington and back to the states. Hoover fellows John A. Ferejohn and Barry R. Weingast examine the issue, arguing that there are both right ways and wrong ways to restore power to the states.

The New Federalism: Can the States Be Trusted?

via Books by Hoover Fellows
Wednesday, January 1, 1997

The New Federalism investigates whether returning a variety of regulatory and police powers back to the states will yield better government. It poses the provocative question, Can the states be trusted? and emerges with a qualified yes. This book should be an invaluable resource to federal and state policymakers alike.

How Little England Beat Big France

by Barry R. Weingast, Kenneth A. Schultzvia Hoover Digest
Tuesday, April 30, 1996

Authoritarian states hold an advantage over democratic ones because they can act quickly and decisively, right? Wrong. Hoover fellow Barry R. Weingast and his coauthor, Kenneth A. Schultz, argue that every time an authoritarian state and a liberal state get into a protracted fight, the liberal state wins. Here Weingast and Schultz examine the century and a quarter of conflict between England and France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The Democratic Advantage: The Institutional Sources of State Power in International Competition

by Barry R. Weingastvia Analysis
Friday, March 1, 1996

According to the standard wisdom in international relations, authoritarian states hold an advantage over democratic states because they can act more quickly and decisively. Yet over the last several centuries, every extended rivalry between an authoritarian state and a liberal one has been won by the liberal state: the Dutch revolt against Spain (late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries); the 125-year rivalry between England and France (1689-1815); the Anglo-French-American rivalry with Germany (late nineteenth through mid-twentieth century); and the American/Allied rivalry with the Soviet Union after World War II.

This paper shows why liberal democracies have a long-term advantage in international competition with authoritarian states. We argue that this reflects the greater ability of liberal states to establish credible limited government. This ability has both long-term advantages for growth and substantial short-term financial advantages during periods of intense international conflict. The financial advantages allow a liberal democracy to raise massive funds through debt, thus financing larger and longer wars. After developing the theoretical perspective, we study two cases, the 125-year rivalry between England and France and the more recent cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

China's Transition to Markets-Market Preserving Federalism, Chinese Style

by Barry R. Weingastvia Analysis
Wednesday, February 1, 1995

This essay studies the relationship between decentralization and the success of economic reform in China. It begins with a theory about the relationship between the types of decentralization and economic performance. We argue that a particular form of decentralization, called market-preserving federlism, Chinese style, provides a critical component of the political foundations for market success in China.

After discussing the evolution of federalism, Chinese style, during the first fifteen years of reform (1979-1993), we turn to the political foundation of economic reform. We argue that economic success hinges in part on an important aspect of decentralization, notably, that it provides for the political security of the reforms. By creating alternative centers of power at local levels, decentralization established forces that could help resist attempts by the central government to compromise the reforms.

China's form of decentralization has served the critical purpose of creating markets at time when political resistance to economic reform remained strong and when the durability of the reforms was important. Nonetheless, federalism, Chinese style, remains incomplete, accounting for some of the anomalies surrounding China's success. It lacks some national public goods such as enforcement of a common market and a unified monetary system, and the system needs to be institutionalized via a set of rules underpinning the market. We also observed that aspects of the problems facing modern China are not unique but have historical precedents in the economic development of the West. To this end, we highlight some important parallels between the economic and political problems facing the early United States under the Articles of Confederation (1781-1787) and those of modern China.

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