What is the Message of 'Understanding the Process of Economic Change' for Economic Historians?
This paper addresses Douglas North's latest book in the light of his intellectual lifework. North's original insistence upon the role of transaction costs did not require a departure from the neoclassical framework as clear-cut as the one required by North's latest emphasis on the role of intentionality. North's recent interest in the cognitive premises of institutional constraints to rational choice considerably expands the scope of the economic analysis of change. However, North still considers institutions supporting homo oeconomicus to be the most important progressive element in history. The paper argues that North's message goes beyond what he would be willing to transfer into the practice of economic historians. In particular, North's new conceptual framework should open the way to the acknowledgment that a plurality of progress-oriented institutions are possible, and that individualism itself could be seen as a multi-dimensional concept.
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