The Political Economy of the Reconstruction Era’s Race Riots

October, 2013

This paper analyzes the political economy of the Reconstruction Era’s (1865–1877) race riots through the economic logic of rules. The central argument is that the race riots were not an inevitable outcome at the end of the Civil War, but instead occurred because of the absence of effective rules to raise the cost of engaging in violence. The authors offer a general framework of ‘rule stickiness’ to analyze the process of rule reform. This framework offers insight into the conditions influencing the enforcement costs of formal rules, as well as the likelihood of third-party enforcers effectively monitoring and punishing rule breakers. The Memphis race riot of 1866 is provided as a case study to illuminate the explanatory power of the theoretical framework.

An Unrighteous Piece of Business

July 27, 2010

To what extent can outsiders impose sustainable change on insiders acting within existing institutional arrangements? This paper explores this question in the context of the American Reconstruction experience in Memphis, Tennessee. Employing the framework of social orders developed by North, Wallis, and Weingast (2009), we contend that Memphis was a limited access order on several important margins. Reconstruction policies failed to appreciate the realities in Memphis, resulting in the 1866 riots. We provide insight into the reasons for the Memphis Riot and offer implications for current and future efforts by outsiders to engage in institutional change.