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Institutional and Non-Institutional Explanations of Economic Differences

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  • Stanley L. Engerman
  • Kenneth L. Sokoloff

Abstract

Although we cannot conceive of processes of economic growth that do not involve institutional change, in this essay we outline some reasons why one should be cautious about grounding a theory of growth on institutions. We emphasize how very different institutional structures have often been found to be reasonable substitutes for each other, both in dissimilar as well as similar contexts. The historical record, therefore, does not seem to support the notion that any particular institution, narrowly defined, is indispensable for growth. Moreover, we discuss how the evidence that there are systematic patterns to the ways institutions evolve undercuts the idea that exogenous change in institutions is what powers growth. Institutions matter, but our thinking of how they matter should recognize that they are profoundly influenced by the political and economic environment, and that if any aspect of institutions is crucial for growth, it is that institutions change over time as circumstances change.

Suggested Citation

  • Stanley L. Engerman & Kenneth L. Sokoloff, 2003. "Institutional and Non-Institutional Explanations of Economic Differences," NBER Working Papers 9989, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9989 Note: DAE
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Sokoloff, Kenneth L., 1988. "Inventive Activity in Early Industrial America: Evidence From Patent Records, 1790–1846," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 48(04), pages 813-850, December.
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    3. Stephen Knack & Philip Keefer, 1997. "Does Social Capital Have an Economic Payoff? A Cross-Country Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 112(4), pages 1251-1288.
    4. Domar, Evsey D., 1970. "The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom: A Hypothesis," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 30(01), pages 18-32, March.
    5. Easterly, William & Levine, Ross, 2003. "Tropics, germs, and crops: how endowments influence economic development," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 3-39, January.
    6. North, Douglass C. & Weingast, Barry R., 1989. "Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(04), pages 803-832, December.
    7. Stanley L. Engerman & Kenneth Lee Sokoloff, 2002. "Factor Endowments, Inequality, and Paths of Development Among New World Economies," ECONOMIA JOURNAL OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION, ECONOMIA JOURNAL OF THE LATIN AMERICAN AND CARIBBEAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION, vol. 0(Fall 2002), pages 41-110, August.
    8. Khan, B. Zorina, 1996. "Married Women's Property Laws and Female Commercial Activity: Evidence from United States Patent Records, 1790–1895," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(02), pages 356-388, June.
    9. Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson & James A. Robinson, 2001. "The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(5), pages 1369-1401, December.
    10. Kenneth L. Sokoloff & Stanley L. Engerman, 2000. "Institutions, Factor Endowments, and Paths of Development in the New World," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 217-232, Summer.
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    JEL classification:

    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative

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