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Political Science and Political Economy Research Seminar

Liberty, Sustaining the role of law and the neoclassical fallacy

Barry Weingast (Stanford University)

Tuesday 25 October 2022 14:00 - 15:30

Many of our seminars and public events this year will continue as in person or as hybrid (online and in person) events. Please check our website listings and Twitter feed @STICERD_LSE for updates.

Unless otherwise specified, in-person seminars are open to the public.

Those unable to join the seminars in-person are welcome to participate via zoom if the event is hybrid.


About this event

Does liberty matter for economics? To address this question, I distinguish among three different types of liberty: Adam Smith’s, the neoclassical, and the so-called “classical liberal.” They differ in that the neoclassical and the classical liberal perspectives presume the existence, typically without noting it, of the four conditions that comprise the foundation of liberty, namely, secure property rights, enforcement of contracts, an absence of government predation, and security. In contrast, Adam Smith sought to explain these foundations. In this paper, an extraliterary review essay on one of the central themes of Acemoglu and Robinson (2019), I draw the implications of Smith's approach. I explain why neoclassical economics— which takes the foundations of liberty as given—is unable to understand the work of Smith on this topic and, hence, on economic development. I argue that the neoclassical and the classical liberal approaches are built on a foundation of magic: because they both presume the foundational conditions just noted but fail to explain how they arise. The neoclassical approach has no explanation for the origin of liberty or of the mechanisms that sustain it. If markets require a rule of law-providing judiciary, the to understand how markets arise, we need to understand how liberty is produced. The Smithian economic perspective is especially important for today’s developing countries today, most of which, at best, struggle to create the four foundational assumptions of liberty.

The Political Science and Political Economy (PSPE) research group at the LSE brings together faculty and PhD students who do quantitative and/or formal research on political institutions, political behaviour, public policy, and political economy.

The PSPE Research Seminar provides a venue for researchers (mostly from outside of the LSE) to present their work.

These seminars are held on Tuesdays in term time at 14.00-15.30, both ONLINE AND IN PERSON in room 32L 3.05, unless specified otherwise.

Seminar coordinator: Mathilde Emeriau

Contact gov.comms@lse.ac.uk to be added to the mailing list and to recieve the zoom link.