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Evolutionary economics and regional policy


  • Jan G. Lambooy

    () (Faculty of Geographical Sciences, University of Utrecht, PO Box 80 115, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands)

  • Ron A. Boschma

    () (Faculty of Geographical Sciences, University of Utrecht, PO Box 80 115, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands)


Our principal objective is to formulate some possible links between evolutionary economics and regional policy, a topic that has not (yet) been covered by the literature. To begin with, we outline what we take to be the essential arguments and components of evolutionary economics. More in particular, we focus attention on the economic foundation of technology policy from an evolutionary perspective, and how this deviates from the so-called `equilibrium' rationale. Then, we examine in what way evolutionary insights may be helpful for regional policy matters. Our emphasis is to investigate the degrees of freedom policy makers may have to determine the future development of regions. This is done by distinguishing between two ideal-types of regional development based on evolutionary principles. When evolutionary mechanisms like `chance' and `increasing returns' are involved in the spatial formation of new economic activities, there are several, quite contradictory, options for policy makers. On the one hand, the importance of `chance events' implies that multiple potential outcomes of location are quite thinkable. This is a principal problem for regional policy because new development paths can not be planned or even foreseen. On the other hand, policy makers may have a considerable role to play. Since space exercises only a minor influence on the location of new economic activities, there is room for policy makers to act and to build-up a favourable local environment. In this respect, `urbanisation economies' may offer advantages of flexibility secured by a diversity of activities that may prevent a process of `negative lock-in'. When evolutionary mechanisms like `selection' and `path dependency' largely determine the geography of innovation, the options for policy makers to change fundamentally the course of regional development are expected to be rather limited. Regional policy is likely to fail when local strategies deviate considerably from the local context. In such circumstances, policy makers have to account for the fact that adaptation to change is largely constrained by the boundaries of the spatial system laid down in the past. However, this also implies that the potential impact of regional policy may be quite large when the policy objectives are strongly embedded in the surrounding environment.

Suggested Citation

  • Jan G. Lambooy & Ron A. Boschma, 2001. "Evolutionary economics and regional policy," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer;Western Regional Science Association, vol. 35(1), pages 113-131.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:anresc:v:35:y:2001:i:1:p:113-131
    Note: Received: September 1998/Accepted: January 2000

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Storper, Michael, 1995. "Regional technology coalitions an essential dimension of national technology policy," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 24(6), pages 895-911, November.
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