Escape from Europe: a calculus of consent model of the origins of liberal institutions in the North American colonies

  • Vlad TarkoEmail author
  • Kyle O’Donnell
Original Paper


The migration out of Europe and the establishment of North American colonies presents us with a great puzzle: why did the colonists establish democratic forms of governance? Considering that early democratic colonies appeared even before philosophical works such as those of Locke and Montesquieu were written, it is difficult to make the case that ideology was the driving factor. We show that the calculus of consent model proposed by Buchanan and Tullock (The calculus of consent, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 1962) offers a simple but subtle solution this puzzle. Because migrants formed much more homogeneous communities, and because, thanks to the large geographical expanse, the inter-jurisdictional externalities were small, the efficient level of consensus within each colony was much greater than in Europe, and the scope of efficient centralized decision-making was much smaller. Hence, a structure of decentralized democratic communities emerged as the efficient outcome.


Institutional formation Federalism Chesapeake Bay colonies New England colonies 

JEL Classification

D02 H41 P16 N41 



We thank Peter Boettke, Geoffrey Hodgson, Peter Leeson, Georg Vanberg, Richard Wagner and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. We also gratefully acknowledge the financial supportfrom the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, The Institute for Humane Studies, and the Earhart Foundation. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Public Choice Society conference in 2014, and at the Association for Private Enterprise Education conference in 2013.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Economics DepartmentDickinson CollegeCarlisleUSA
  2. 2.Economics Department, Mercatus CenterGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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