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Increasing returns: historiographic issues and path dependence

  • Kenneth Arrow

Writing a history of the analysis of increasing returns in economics is qualitatively different from the usual cumulative history of knowledge, as exemplified by the history of perfectly competitive analysis. The history of increasing returns is much less continuous. The reason for this irregular history lies, in my view, in the analytic nature of the subject. I concentrate on the recent history of the implications of increasing returns for path dependence in economic development. Foreshadowed by Veblen (1915) the topic was made explicit by Paul David in some theoretical analyses of topics in economic history (1971, 1975) and then by subsequent papers by David and by Brian Arthur in the 1980s. Contemporaneously, Farrell, Katz, Saloner, and Shapiro came to parallel conclusions in a very specific industrial organization context marked by network externalities.

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Article provided by Taylor & Francis Journals in its journal The European Journal of the History of Economic Thought.

Volume (Year): 7 (2000)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 171-180

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Handle: RePEc:taf:eujhet:v:7:y:2000:i:2:p:171-180
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  1. Joseph Farrell & Garth Saloner, 1984. "Standardization, Compatibility and Innovation," Working papers 345, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  2. Romer, Paul M, 1986. "Increasing Returns and Long-run Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(5), pages 1002-37, October.
  3. David, Paul A, 1985. "Clio and the Economics of QWERTY," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 332-37, May.
  4. Joseph Farrell & Garth Saloner, 1985. "Installed Base and Compatibility With Implications for Product Preannouncements," Working papers 385, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  5. Katz, Michael L & Shapiro, Carl, 1986. "Technology Adoption in the Presence of Network Externalities," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 94(4), pages 822-41, August.
  6. Young, Allyn A., 1928. "Increasing Returns and Economic Progress," History of Economic Thought Articles, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, vol. 38, pages 527-542.
  7. Katz, Michael L & Shapiro, Carl, 1985. "Network Externalities, Competition, and Compatibility," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(3), pages 424-40, June.
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