Parliamentary Constraints and Long-Term Development: Evidence from the Duchy of Württemberg

The forthcoming article “Parliamentary Constraints and Long-Term Development: Evidence from the Duchy of Württemberg” by Jonathan Doucette is summarized by the author below. 

It has long been argued that parliaments which could hold rulers accountable were an important driver of economic development in Europe. However, recent research has challenged this relationship by positing that favorable economic conditions caused parliaments and decided their institutional strength in the first place. Scholars trying to settle this ‘chicken and egg problem’ have focused on identifying the overall (lack of) effect of parliaments. This line of research faces the problem that European parliaments were often organized in very different ways, were not equally powerful, and had very different meeting frequencies. For instance, the differences between the French Estates-General, which never gained much power and stopped meeting early on, and the English/British parliament, which became a permanent political institution of constraint, are so stark that this approach sometimes becomes almost meaningless.  

Instead, we should carefully investigate whether specific parliaments seem to have had consequences for economic growth. I examine the parliament in the Duchy of Württemberg, which placed considerable checks on its dukes in the period from 1495 to 1796. I compare areas just inside of the Duchy with adjacent areas outside of it. Economically similar prior to 1495, areas within the Duchy exhibited additional economic activity following the advent of the strong Württemberg parliamentary. What explains this divergence? My results suggest that several mechanisms determine whether parliaments spur economic activity: First, areas that were directly represented in parliament were more likely to see growth. Second, areas that formed the basis of the local administration saw more growth. Third, parliamentary constraints may attract productive migrants from elsewhere.  

Based on my findings, there are thus several institutional configurations that can potentially limit the economy-enhancing properties of parliaments: Having few or geographically concentrated representatives in parliament may limit the likelihood of broad increases in economic activity; the delivery of public goods is likely to suffer if parliament cannot influence the allocation of new administrative seats; and finally, polities that remain closed off to outsiders cannot attract productive migrants. Future studies might therefore explore i) what kind of parliaments activate (or foreclose) these pathways to economic development, and ii) which of these pathways matter most for growth.

About the Author: Jonathan Doucette is an Assistant Professor at Aarhus University, Denmark. Their research “Parliamentary Constraints and Long-Term Development: Evidence from the Duchy of Württemberg” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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