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The role of the state in economic growth

  • Erik S. Reinert

This paper attempts to trace and describe the role played by the government sector – the state – in promoting economic growth in Western societies since the Renaissance. One important conclusion is that the antagonism between state and market, which has characterised the twentieth century, is a relatively new phenomenon. Since the Renaissance one very important task of the state has been to create well-functioning markets by providing a legal framework, standards, credit, physical infrastructure and – if necessary – to function temporarily as an entrepreneur of last resort. Early economists were acutely aware that national markets did not occur spontaneously, and they used “modern” ideas like synergies, increasing returns, and innovation theory when arguing for the right kind of government policy. In fact, mercantilist economics saw it as a main task to extend the synergetic economic effects observed within cities to the territory of a nation-state. The paper argues that the classical Anglo-Saxon tradition in economics – fundamentally focused on barter and distribution, rather than on production and knowledge – systematically fails to grasp these wider issues in economic development, and it brings in and discusses the role played by the state in alternative traditions of non-equilibrium economics.

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Article provided by Emerald Group Publishing in its journal Journal of Economic Studies.

Volume (Year): 26 (1999)
Issue (Month): 4/5 (September)
Pages: 268-326

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Handle: RePEc:eme:jespps:v:26:y:1999:i:4/5:p:268-326
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