Complementarity, Competition and Institutional Development: The Irish Loan Funds through Three Centuries
Ireland's loan funds were a long lived, self-sustaining, large-scale microcredit organization that made millions of loans, without collateral, to the poor. We examine the life-cycle of this institution and show how the loan funds responded to their economic environment in ways that benefitted Ireland but diminished the demand for the funds' services. During their first 100 years, a period of growth ending in the 1840s, they adapted constantly to reflect their changing environment, and were successful in obtaining improvements to their legal structure because they were complementary to the banking system and were seen as an effective method of relieving poverty. In contrast, in their second hundred years, they became ossified, perhaps because the commercial banks had become direct competitors. We see in their progress through 200 years an example of Douglass North's contention that institutions change incrementally and, when they are successful, often change the framework within which they operate.
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