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Working Paper Series

The New Self-Governance: A Theoretical Framework


  • Stephen M. Maurer, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley


  • Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper: GSPP15-002 (May 2015)


Industry has organized increasingly effective self-governance initiatives since the 1980s. Almost all of these are based on large retailers’ economic leverage over global supply chains. This article documents commonalities in six of the best-studied examples – coffee, dolphin-safe tuna, fisheries, lumber, food processing, and artificial DNA – and offers straightforward economic and political theories to explain them. The theories teach that oligopoly competition can strongly constrain private power so that firms are answerable to a shadow electorate of consumers. Furthermore, rational retailers will find cede significant power to suppliers and NGOs. The arguments generalize traditional claims that free markets constrain private power and suggest an explicit framework for deciding when private politics are legitimate.

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Last updated on 05/18/2015