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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.

Suggested Citation

  • Paul A. David, 2007. "Path dependence: a foundational concept for historical social science," Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History, Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 1(2), pages 91-114, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:afc:cliome:v:1:y:2007:i:2:p:91-114
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    Cited by:

    1. J-L.Demeulemeester & C.Diebolt, 2011. "New Institutional History of the Adaptive Efficiency of Higher Education Systems. Lessons from the Prussian Engineering Education: 1806-1914," Economies et Sociétés (Serie 'Histoire Economique Quantitative'), Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), issue 43, pages 33-63, January.
    2. 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.
    3. Kauffman, Robert J. & Liu, Jun & Ma, Dan, 2015. "Innovations in financial IS and technology ecosystems: High-frequency trading in the equity market," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 99(C), pages 339-354.
    4. Dieter Bögenhold, 2008. "„Social embeddedness”: how new economic sociology goes into the offensive and meets the own roots," The Journal of Philosophical Economics, Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies, The Journal of Philosophical Economics, vol. 2(1), pages 76-114, November.
    5. Wahl, Fabian, 2016. "Does medieval trade still matter? Historical trade centers, agglomeration and contemporary economic development," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(C), pages 50-60.
    6. Claude Diebolt, 2011. "The Stakes of Cliometrics in Ancient History," Historical Social Research (Section 'Cliometrics'), Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC), vol. 36(3), pages 350-361.
    7. Claude Diebolt & Faustine Perrin, 2013. "From Stagnation to Sustained Growth: The Role of Female Empowerment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(3), pages 545-549, May.
    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. 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.
    10. 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 (Revista de Economia e Sociologia Rural-RESR), Sociedade Brasileira de Economia e Sociologia Rural, vol. 48(3), pages 1-18.
    11. Jean-Pierre H. Dubé & Günter J. Hitsch & Pradeep K. Chintagunta, 2010. "Tipping and Concentration in Markets with Indirect Network Effects," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 29(2), pages 216-249, 03-04.
    12. Werner Pascha & Cornelia Storz & Markus Taube, 2011. "Coordination between Inertia and Dynamic Development: An Overview of Issues and Contributions," Chapters,in: Institutional Variety in East Asia, chapter 1 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    13. Frank Neffke & Martin Henning, 2011. "Entrepreneurship Diversification, Skill Relatedness and Regional Economic Evolution," ERSA conference papers ersa10p937, European Regional Science Association.
    14. 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.
    15. Roman Jurowetzki, 2015. "Unpacking Big Systems - Natural Language Processing meets Network Analysis. A Study of Smart Grid Development in Denmark," SPRU Working Paper Series 2015-15, SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex Business School.
    16. Antonelli, Cristiano & Crespi, Francesco, 2013. "The "Matthew effect" in R&D public subsidies: The Italian evidence," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 80(8), pages 1523-1534.
    17. 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," Working Papers on East Asian Studies 95/2013, University of Duisburg-Essen, Institute of East Asian Studies IN-EAST.
    18. repec:elg:eechap:18031_8 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. 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.
    20. Tsekouras, Kostas & Chatzistamoulou, Nikos & Kounetas, Kostas & Broadstock, David C., 2016. "Spillovers, path dependence and the productive performance of European transportation sectors in the presence of technology heterogeneity," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 261-274.
    21. Cristiano Antonelli & Francesco Crespi & Giuseppe Scellato, 2018. "Productivity growth persistence: firm strategies, size and system properties," Chapters,in: The Evolutionary Complexity of Endogenous Innovation, chapter 8, pages 176-202 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    22. Cristiano Antonelli, 2011. "The Economic Complexity of Technological Change: Knowledge Interaction and Path Dependence," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economic Complexity of Technological Change, chapter 1 Edward Elgar Publishing.

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