Legal Centralization: A Tocquevillian View

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We study the degree of legal centralization in a setting in which people are averse to inequality before the law. In this approach inspired by Tocqueville, the degree of legal centralization is determined by striking a balance between equality before the law and attention to local needs. We show that there is a threshold such that when the intensity of aversion to inequality before the law is below this threshold, legal decentralization is preferred to legal centralization (and the converse is true). We also show that the optimal way to balance the desire for local adjustments and national uniformity is not an intermediate degree of centralization but nationally uniform rules that can be adapted by judges. We rely on these results to provide an analytical narrative to the abrupt change from legal diversity to full legal centralization and uniformization around the time of the French Revolution in 1789.

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