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Albert O. Hirschman on Economic Evolution


  • Antonio G. CALAFATI

    () (Universita' Politecnica delle Marche, Dipartimento di Economia)


In this paper it will be argued that Albert O. Hirschman’s research work is a remarkable instance of a methodological shift that began in the Fifties, and of which there seems to be scarce awareness nowadays notwithstanding its relevance for some of the issues that are in the agenda of contemporary economics. In his work - so as in the work of other economists of his generation - systems theory was used as a general methodology to frame the study of structural change in the economy. The methodological questions raised by the study of ‘economic evolution’, extensively discussed nowadays, were very much in evidence in economics already in the Fifties in the theory of economic development. Contrary to what it often said, attempts to build a theoretical interpretation of economic change were in fact conducted within this research programme. Indeed, the focus of Hirschman’s research activity has been on the explanation of the relationship between the evolution of the social system and the economic process, and systems theory has been the methodological perspective he has relied upon in the study of this relationship. He was certainly not alone while walking along this pathway. Yet, more than other contemporary economists, Hirschman addressed, although with some elusiveness, a fundamental issue in the study of economic evolution, and namely the micro-foundation of economic change. Most of his research ought to be properly understood as an attempt to put forward micro-founded (meta-)theory of economic evolution. To discuss the whole corpus of Hirschman’s research work would be a too demanding task. The aim of this paper is in fact more modest. It intends to call attention to the methodology that Hirschman elaborated to address the issue of explaining ‘economic evolution’ – and to interpret it as a response to a class of why-questions that have constantly been prominent in the agenda of economists in the last decades.

Suggested Citation

  • Antonio G. CALAFATI, 2000. "Albert O. Hirschman on Economic Evolution," Working Papers 132, Universita' Politecnica delle Marche (I), Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche e Sociali.
  • Handle: RePEc:anc:wpaper:132

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    Cited by:

    1. Stefania BUSSOLETTI & Roberto ESPOSTI, 2004. "Regional Convergence, Structural Funds and the Role of Agricolture in the EU. A Panel-Data Approach," Working Papers 220, Universita' Politecnica delle Marche (I), Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche e Sociali.
    2. Ugo FRATESI, 2003. "Innovation Diffusion and the Evolution of Regional Disparities," Working Papers 186, Universita' Politecnica delle Marche (I), Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche e Sociali.
    3. Marcello MESSORI & Alberto ZAZZARO, 2004. "Monetary profits within the circuit: Ponzi finance oer "mors tua, vita mea"?," Working Papers 200, Universita' Politecnica delle Marche (I), Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche e Sociali.
    4. Nicola MATTEUCCI & Alessandro STERLACCHINI, 2003. "ICT and Employment Growth in Italian Industries," Working Papers 193, Universita' Politecnica delle Marche (I), Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche e Sociali.
    5. Elvio MATTIOLI, 2003. "The measurement of coherence in the evaluation of criteria and its effects or ranking problems illustrated using a multicriteria decision method," Working Papers 199, Universita' Politecnica delle Marche (I), Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche e Sociali.

    More about this item


    Hirschman; economic evolution; endogenous change; innovation; system theory;

    JEL classification:

    • B3 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought: Individuals
    • B4 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights


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