The origins of governments: from anarchy to hierarchy

M.J. Baker, E.H. Bulte, J. Weisdorf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We analyze development trajectories of early civilizations where population size and technology are endogenous, and derive conditions under which such societies optimally ‘switch’ from anarchy to hierarchy – when it is optimal to elect and support a ruler. The ruler provides an efficient level of law and order, but creams off part of society's surplus for his own consumption. Switching to hierarchy occurs if the state of technology exceeds a threshold value, but societies may also be ‘trapped’ at lower levels of technology, perpetuating conditions of anarchy. We present empirical evidence based on the Standard Cross Cultural Sample that support the model's main predictions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-242
JournalJournal of Institutional Economics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • nations
  • organization
  • societies
  • model
  • size


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