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University of Califonia, Berkeley

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Title: Imperial Governance and the Growth of Legislative Power in America 

Abstract: The power of assemblies in the British new world grew far beyond the bounds intended at their creation. Although the British crown instructed royal governors to use legal powers to restrain assemblies, they were unsuccessful. I develop a formal model to account for this growth. In this model colonial assemblies can challenge the agenda setting powers of colonial governors. "Strong" governors withstand these challenges easily; "weak" ones prefer to capitulate. The crown wishes to retain only strong governors; however, it cannot distinguish between a strong governor holding firm against a tough assembly, and a weak governor capitulating to a moderate one. Weak governors exploit this to avoid revealing their weakness to the crown, while avoiding conflict with the assembly. But the assembly observes bargaining concessions, and challenges weak governors even more in the future. This creates a dynamic path of growing assembly power. The model provides a strategic logic of endogenous institutional change, and one of the most important institutional developments in American history: the growth of legislative power. 

Bio: Sean Gailmard is a professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on principal-agent models of accountability in public bureaucracies and formal models of institutional development. He is currently writing a book on the political economy of British imperial governance in the New World, arguing that classic principal-agent problems in imperial administration explain the strategic foundations of American political institutions. He earned his Ph.D. in social science at Caltech.