DP14407 The Political Economy of Status Competition: Sumptuary Laws in Preindustrial Europe

Author(s): Desiree Desierto, Mark Koyama
Publication Date: February 2020
Keyword(s): political economy, regulation, rent-seeking, Status competition
JEL(s): D91, K42, N4, N43, Z10
Programme Areas: Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=14407

Sumptuary laws that regulated clothing based on social status were an important part of the political economy of premodern states. We introduce a model that rationalizes the use of sumptuary laws by elites to regulate status competition from below. Our model predicts a non-monotonic effect of income - sumptuary legislation initially increases with income, but then falls as income increases further. The initial rise is more likely for states with less extractive institutions, whose ruling elites face greater status threat from the rising commercial class. We test these predictions using a newly collected dataset of country and city-level sumptuary laws.