The death of Nelson Mandela should result in political economists thinking about the importance of pivotal people at pivotal times in the affairs of men. We aren't that equiped or insightful when it comes to the role of leadership and the uniqueness of personality. We must as economists and political economists, I would contend, do better in this regard if we hope to develop economics as part of a larger social theory.
Nelso Mandela was not only a universal symbol of freedom for the oppressed, he was also an inspirational leader stressing reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa. I hope in the celebration of his long and influential life, the discussion also results in an extended discussion of transitional justice and Mandela's amazing courage of conviction on the stance he took, and the example he set in terms of forbearance and forgiveness.
Chris Coyne and I attempt to grapple with the problems of post-atrocity regime change in our paper "The Political Economy of Forgiveness." As we argue: "A successful transition involves balancing a decisive break with the previous regime with the simultaneous minimization of the costs associated with the administration of justice. Where the benefits of pursuing transitional justice outweigh the associated costs, the administration of justice is a net benefit and contributes to the overall transition to liberalism. However, where the costs outweigh the associated benefits, pursuing justice will have the counterproductive effect of damaging the likelihood of establishing a sustainable liberal order. In short, pursuing transitional justice is not an all or nothing endeavor but rather must be thought of in terms of marginal or additional units. The key question is: Does it make sense to invest additional resources in administering justice against members of the previous regime?"