In the end, therefore, institutions are no more than rules and rules are themselves the product of social decisions. Consequently, the rules are also not in equilibrium. One can expect that losers on a series of decisions under a particular set of rules will attempt (often successfully) to change institutions and hence the kind of decisions produced under them. In that sense rules or institutions are just more alternatives in the policy space and the status quo of one set of rules can be supplanted with another set of rules. Thus the only difference between values and institutions is that the revelation of institutional disequilibria is probably a longer process than the revelation of disequilibria of taste.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Egypt and Social Choice
Events in Egypt are an important reminder that social choices---even social choice over constitutions and governing arrangements---are rarely in equilibrium. Constitutional choices may be "sticky" and they can be reinforced by external actions, such as threats of violence, but the forces that give rise to any given regime can also support efforts "to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government." When it become evident that a given constitutional order does not produce outcomes consistent with the needs or preferences of some critical mass of citizens, alternative regimes will be offered and, sooner or later, the status quo will be replaced. As Riker wrote in 1980: