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Path dependence: a foundational concept for historical social science

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  • Paul A. David

    ()
    (Department of Economics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6072, USA & Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)

Abstract

This introduction to the concept of path dependence, its pertinence for the development of historical social science, and its application in economic analysis and economic history, proceeds from intuitive general ideas about history and historicity in narratives. It provides precise definitions of what is meant by describing a dynamical process as being “historical.” Deterministic and stochastic formalizations of such dynamical systems are distinguished. The characterization of stochastic path dependent processes as “non-ergodic” is explained in non-mathematical language by reference to concepts in probability theory, and a variety of representations of such processes in formal models is surveyed (including the Polya urn-process, certain kinds of Markov chain models, branching processes, and reversible spin systems) to show that while all display path dependence, their properties in other respects are quite different. The diverse set of structural, micro-level conditions that can give rise to path dependence is examined, and a further distinction is drawn between the property of path dependence and the existence of so-called “QWERTY-effects”—characterized by decentralized competitive market failures and consequent “lock-in” to Pareto-inefficient equilibria. Concluding sections consider the implications of the existence of non-ergodic dynamics for the methods of economic policy analysis, and the nature of the guidance that can be obtained in regard to public policy affecting endogenous technological change and institutional evolution.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC) in its journal Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History.

Volume (Year): 1 (2007)
Issue (Month): 2 (July)
Pages: 91-114

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Handle: RePEc:afc:cliome:v:1:y:2007:i:2:p:91-114

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Web page: http://www.cliometrie.org
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Cited by:
  1. Marciano, Alain & Khalil, Elias L., 2012. "Optimization, path dependence and the law: Can judges promote efficiency?," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 72-82.
  2. Wahl, Fabian, 2013. "Does medieval trade still matter? Historical trade centers, agglomeration and contemporary economic development," FZID Discussion Papers 82-2013, University of Hohenheim, Center for Research on Innovation and Services (FZID).
  3. Zamagni, Vera, 2010. "What is the Message of 'Understanding the Process of Economic Change' for Economic Historians?," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 157-163, May.
  4. Frank Neffke & Martin Henning, 2011. "Entrepreneurship Diversification, Skill Relatedness and Regional Economic Evolution," ERSA conference papers ersa10p937, European Regional Science Association.
  5. Antonelli, Cristiano, 2013. "The Economic Complexity of Innovation as a Creative Response," Department of Economics and Statistics Cognetti de Martiis. Working Papers 201326, University of Turin.
  6. Souza, Roberta de Castro & Neto, João Amato, 2010. "The Entry of Brazilian Fresh Fruit Small and Medium Producers Into the Global Market," Brazilian Journal of Rural Economy and Sociology (RESR), Sociedade Brasileira de Economia e Sociologia Rural, vol. 48(3), September.
  7. Gretz, Richard T., 2010. "Hardware quality vs. network size in the home video game industry," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 76(2), pages 168-183, November.
  8. Aghion, Philippe & David, Paul A. & Foray, Dominique, 2009. "Science, technology and innovation for economic growth: Linking policy research and practice in 'STIG Systems'," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 681-693, May.
  9. Saeki, Yasuo & Horak, Sven, 2013. "The role of trust in cultivating relation-specific skills: The case of a multinational automotive supplier in Japan and Germany," Duisburger Arbeitspapiere Ostasienwissenschaften 95/2013, University of Duisburg-Essen, Institute of East Asian Studies IN-EAST.

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