New Institutional Economics and History
It is commonly believed that New Institutional Economics, particularly the theoretical innovations of Douglass North over the past 20 years and more, has lent scientific legitimacy to economic history. Yet, North is a prisoner of a very peculiar conception of historical development which is no more scientific than rival theories. Two particular aspects of his work underline this point. First, his presentation of class struggles and institutions as contractual relations, understood in economic terms, is highly questionable. Second, it remains to be seen whether or not his recent acceptance of the relevance of ideology is convincing: his account of Soviet stagnation and the crises of Muslim societies leads him into an idealist or culturalist deadlock.
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