Surveying the Transaction Cost Foundations of New Institutional Economics: A Critical Inquiry
The purpose of this article is to appraise the analytical usefulness of the new institutionalist approach by investigating the explanatory capacity of the transaction cost concept. After a discussion of the problems of defining the concept of transaction costs through the identification of three different uses of the term found in the literature, we turn to the problems associated with the analytical distinction between the institutional environment and organizations as players of the game, and more specifically to the treatment of organizations as individual actors. Further, it is shown that transaction costs as a concept is inherently unqualified for operationalization. Last, we examine the usefulness of the transaction cost concept in explaining the emergence of organizations by focusing on two specific cases, Coase's and Williamson's theories of the firm. Our conclusion is that the transaction cost concept cannot provide a sufficient rationale for explaining either the emergence of institutions or the origins of organizations given its static, ahistorical and universalistic nature.
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