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A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History

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  • Douglass C North
  • John Joseph Wallis
  • Barry R. Weingast

Abstract

Neither economics nor political science can explain the process of modern social development. The fact that developed societies always have developed economies and developed polities suggests that the connection between economics and politics must be a fundamental part of the development process. This paper develops an integrated theory of economics and politics. We show how, beginning 10,000 years ago, limited access social orders developed that were able to control violence, provide order, and allow greater production through specialization and exchange. Limited access orders provide order by using the political system to limit economic entry to create rents, and then using the rents to stabilize the political system and limit violence. We call this type of political economy arrangement a natural state. It appears to be the natural way that human societies are organized, even in most of the contemporary world. In contrast, a handful of developed societies have developed open access social orders. In these societies, open access and entry into economic and political organizations sustains economic and political competition. Social order is sustained by competition rather than rent-creation. The key to understanding modern social development is understanding the transition from limited to open access social orders, which only a handful of countries have managed since WWII.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 12795.

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Date of creation: Dec 2006
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Publication status: published as North, Douglas, John Joseph Wallis, and Barry Weingast. Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:12795

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  1. Andrei Shleifer & Simeon Djankov & Edward L. Glaeser & Rafael La Porta & Florencio Lopez de Silanes, 2003. "The New Comparative Economics," Yale School of Management Working Papers ysm355, Yale School of Management.
  2. Barro, Robert J., 1999. "Determinants of Democracy," Scholarly Articles 3451297, Harvard University Department of Economics.
  3. Naomi R. Lamoreaux & Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, 2004. "Legal Regime and Business's Organizational Choice: A Comparison of France and the United States," NBER Working Papers 10288, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. North, D-C, 1997. "The Process of Economic Change," Research Paper 128, World Institute for Development Economics Research.
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