Shooting an Elephant: A Public Choice Explanation of Caste

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The following paper proposes the furtherance of a rational choice explanation for the caste system. Using ethnographic and qualitative evidence on the history of institutional changes in the caste structure of India, I show that caste has been used in India by invaders and power-vying local rulers as a way to systematically exert administrative, political, and economic control over a populace. I also use instances of caste in other parts of the world throughout time as well as how caste has changed since a ban on discrimination based on caste three years after the end of British occupation over India to provide further evidence. While I do not make claims that my theory is mono-causal, I make the much milder claim that it has worked in tandem with other theories of the origins, continuance, and structure of caste systems.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1-2
Pages (from-to)100-112
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Public choice
  • Rational choice
  • India
  • Caste
  • Colonization
  • Religion
  • Hinduism
  • British taj

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