Constitutional political economy: Ulysses and the prophet Jonah

Arye L. Hillman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The story of Ulysses and the sirens has been used to portray the theme of the field of constitutional political economy. Indeed, Ulysses adorns the cover of the field’s journal. I compare Ulysses and the prophet Jonah as constitutional allegories. The behavior of Ulysses does not transfigure to a constitution consistent with public-choice premises, while the behavior of Jonah does. A constitution transfigured from Ulysses provides privileged personal benefits for an autocratic ruler at the expense of social costs that historically often have entailed much more than placing wax in sailors’ ears. A constitution transfigured from Jonah requires leaders and politicians to exit government when the social cost from them staying on exceeds whatever social benefits their continuation in office may provide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalPublic Choice
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank Michael Aronson, Robert Aumann, Jerg Gutmann, Ronen Gradwohl, Daniel Schiffman, Hovav Shapira, William Shughart, Heinrich Ursprung, Stefan Voigt, Avi Weiss, and Warren Young for comments.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Athens versus Jerusalem
  • Constitution
  • Ethics in governance
  • Political restraint


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