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Can't We All Be More Like Scandinavians? Asymmetric Growth and Institutions in an Interdependent World


  • Acemoglu, Daron
  • Robinson, James A
  • Verdier, Thierry


Because of their more limited inequality and more comprehensive social welfare systems, many perceive average welfare to be higher in Scandinavian societies than in the United States. Why then does the United States not adopt Scandinavian-style institutions? More generally, in an interdependent world, would we expect all countries to adopt the same institutions? To provide theoretical answers to this question, we develop a simple model of economic growth in a world in which all countries bene…t and potentially contribute to advances in the world technology frontier. A greater gap of incomes between successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs (thus greater inequality) increases entrepreneurial e¤ort and hence a country’s contribution to the world technology frontier. We show that, under plausible assumptions, the world equilibrium is asymmetric: some countries will opt for a type of “cutthroat”capitalism that generates greater inequality and more innovation and will become the technology leaders, while others will free- ride on the cutthroat incentives of the leaders and choose a more “cuddly” form of capitalism. Paradoxically, those with cuddly reward structures, though poorer, may have higher welfare than cutthroat capitalists; but in the world equilibrium, it is not a best response for the cutthroat capitalists to switch to a more cuddly form of capitalism. We also show that domestic constraints from social democratic parties or unions may be bene…cial for a country because they prevent cutthroat capitalism domestically, instead inducing other countries to play this role.

Suggested Citation

  • Acemoglu, Daron & Robinson, James A & Verdier, Thierry, 2012. "Can't We All Be More Like Scandinavians? Asymmetric Growth and Institutions in an Interdependent World," CEPR Discussion Papers 9113, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  • Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:9113

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Barberà, Salvador & Beviá, Carmen & Ponsatí, Clara, 2015. "Meritocracy, egalitarianism and the stability of majoritarian organizations," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 237-257.
    2. Tobias Emonts-Holley & Alastair Greig & Patrizio Lecca & Katerina Lisenkova & Peter G McGregor & J Kim Swales, 2017. "The impact of enhanced regional fiscal autonomy: towards a scandinavian movel for Scotland," Working Papers 1707, University of Strathclyde Business School, Department of Economics.
    3. Barth, Erling & Moene, Karl O. & Willumsen, Fredrik, 2015. "Reprint of "The Scandinavian model—An interpretation"," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 17-29.
    4. Jain, Sanjay & Majumdar, Sumon & Mukand, Sharun W, 2014. "Walk the line: Conflict, state capacity and the political dynamics of reform," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 150-166.
    5. Markus Ahlborn & Joachim Ahrens & Rainer Schweickert, 2016. "Large-Scale Transition of Economic Systems – Do CEECs Converge Toward Western Prototypes?," Comparative Economic Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Association for Comparative Economic Studies, vol. 58(3), pages 430-454, September.
    6. Pontus Braunerhjelm & Magnus Henrekson, 2013. "Entrepreneurship, institutions, and economic dynamism: lessons from a comparison of the United States and Sweden," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 22(1), pages 107-130, February.
    7. Barth, Erling & Moene, Karl O. & Willumsen, Fredrik, 2014. "The Scandinavian model—An interpretation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 117(C), pages 60-72.
    8. Jess Benhabib & Jesse Perla & Christopher Tonetti, 2014. "Catch-up and fall-back through innovation and imitation," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 19(1), pages 1-35, March.
    9. Joscha Beckmann & Marek Endrichs & Rainer Schweickert, 2016. "Government activity and economic growth – one size fits All?," International Economics and Economic Policy, Springer, vol. 13(3), pages 429-450, July.
    10. Wietzke, Frank-Borge, 2014. "Pathways from jobs to social cohesion," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6804, The World Bank.
    11. Kollintzas, Tryphon & Papageorgiou, Dimitris & Vassilatos, Vanghelis, 2013. "A Neoclassical Growth Model for the Insiders – Outsiders Society," CEPR Discussion Papers 9640, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    12. Alberto Botta, 2015. "The complex inequality-innovation-public investment nexus: What we (don't) know, what we should, and what we have to do," Working Papers PKWP1506, Post Keynesian Economics Study Group (PKSG).
    13. Ingvild Almås & Alexander W. Cappelen & Bertil Tungodden, 2016. "Cutthroat Capitalism versus Cuddly Socialism: Are Americans more Meritocratic and Efficiency-Seeking than Scandinavians?," CESifo Working Paper Series 6278, CESifo Group Munich.
    14. Pérez-Moreno, Salvador & Bárcena-Martín, Elena & Ritzen, Jo, 2017. "Institutional diversity in the Euro area : Any evidence of convergence?," MERIT Working Papers 047, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).

    More about this item


    cutthroat capitalism; economic growth; inequality; innovation; interdependency;

    JEL classification:

    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth
    • P10 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - General
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism

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