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Published August 1, 2004 | metadata_only
Journal Article

Choosing How Choose: Self-Stable Majority Rules and Constitutions


Constitutional arrangements affect the decisions made by a society. We study how this effect leads to preferences of citizens over constitutions; and ultimately how this has a feedback that determines which constitutions can survive in a given society. Constitutions are stylized here, to consist of a voting rule for ordinary business and possibly a different voting rule for making changes to the constitution. We define an equilibrium notion for constitutions, called self-stability, whereby under the rules of a self-stable constitution, the society would not vote to change the constitution. We argue that only self-stable constitutions will endure. We prove that self-stable constitutions always exist, but that most constitutions (even very prominent ones) may not be self-stable for some societies. We show that constitutions where the voting rule used to amend the constitution is the same as the voting rule used for ordinary business are dangerously simplistic, and there are (many) societies for which no such constitution is self-stable. We conclude with a characterization of the set of self-stable constitutions that use majority rule for ordinary business.

Additional Information

© 2004 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We thank Randall Calvert, Daniel Levin, and Jean Mercier Ythier for very helpful discussions of the paper. We also thank Danilo Coelho, Gabrielle Demange, Anke Gerber, Annick Laruelle, Eric Maskin, Charles Plott, Cheng-Zhong Qin, James Snyder, Guofu Tan, Gordon Tullock, Federico Valenciano, and Peyton Young for helpful conversations and comments, and Takehiko Yamato for detailed comments and suggestions on an earlier draft. We are also grateful for the suggestions of Alberto Alesina and two anonymous referees that have improved the paper. Financial support under NSF grant SES-9986190 and under DCGYT Direccio´ General de Recerca projects PD-98-0870 and SGR-980062 is gratefully acknowledged. This project was initiated during a visit by Barbera to the California Institute of Technology. Formerly SSWP 1145.

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August 19, 2023
September 7, 2023