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Moe: Political institutions

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Moe. 1990. Political institutions: The neglected side of the story. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 6:213-253.


  1. The unneglected side: The "new institutionalists" (what Moe calls "positive theory of institutions") employ their core technology (a combination of social choice and economics) to study how institutions solve collective action problems. They generally view institutions as an agreement that enables us to act.
  2. The neglected side: Institutions are themselves a result of politics and decisionmaking. Like other public policies, institutional design results from an "authoritative means by which some people may legally force other people to accept outcomes they would never agree to voluntarily" (250). They neglect to consider how "political institutions are also weapons of coercion and redistribution" (213).

Result of this neglect: Many of the other scholars working on political institutions "regard positive theory as irrelevant to what they do. And to a large extent they are right" (249). Thus, Moe offers a "friendly warning about the autopilot features of" new institutionalist ideology that lead them to look primarily at one side of the story, "to encourage mid-course corrections that might help accelerate their progress" (250).

Moe concludes by listing several ideas for future research along these lines.