Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Williamson, Claudia

Committee Member

Li, Cheng

Committee Member

Campbell, Randy

Committee Member

Sobel, Russell S.

Committee Member

Wiseman, Travis

Date of Degree


Original embargo terms

MSU Only Indefinitely

Document Type

Dissertation - Campus Access Only


Applied Economics

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Business


Department of Finance and Economics


The economic prosperity of a nation is a complex function of many factors, including its culture, geography, history, legal origins, ethnolinguistic fractionalization, resource endowment, leadership and religious homogeneity. However, economic prosperity is most robustly related to the quality of a nation’s institutions under which its resources are put to productive use. Institutions are the humanly devised constraints that structure political, economic and social interactions. Fundamental economic institutions, like property rights and the rule of law, structure the incentives that affect a nation’s productivity. Since at least the early 1990’s, economists have quantified economic institutions and policies by aggregating economic policy variables into economic indexes. Of these indexes, the most popular is the Economic Freedom of the World, which measures the consistency of a nation’s institutions with the principles of economic freedom. After decades of study, we know that economic freedom is positively related to income, gender equality, civil liberty and happiness among other desirable economic outcomes. Despite the benefits of simplifying institutions into a single number, the implicit assumptions required to do so are costly. By summarizing institutional quality as a single quantity, scholars assume that the underlying institutional structure of two economies are identical as long as their summary scores are identical. This assumption is often false, and this research examines the costs of this assumption for modeling economic growth. The common methodology for measuring institutional quality ignores both institutional volatility and institutional imbalance. This research shows that both measures are robustly and negatively related to economic growth rates. Therefore, models that simply a nation’s institutions to a single value at a single period of time are assuming away valuable information that helps explain a nation’s prosperity or lack thereof. In addition to examining the costs of these false assumptions, this research also examines the institutional trends among U.S. states since 1981. Despite declining economic freedom in the United States relative to other nations, state and local governments in the United States are liberalizing in recent decades. This phenomena is driven by increasing labor market freedom among states.