Understanding the Process of Economic Change

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-04-19
  • Publisher: Princeton Univ Pr

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In this landmark work, a Nobel Prize-winning economist develops a new way of understanding the process by which economies change. Douglass North inspired a revolution in economic history a generation ago by demonstrating that economic performance is determined largely by the kind and quality of institutions that support markets. As he showed in two now classic books that inspired the New Institutional Economics (today a subfield of economics), property rights and transaction costs are fundamental determinants. Here, North explains how different societies arrive at the institutional infrastructure that greatly determines their economic trajectories.

North argues that economic change depends largely on "adaptive efficiency," a society's effectiveness in creating institutions that are productive, stable, fair, and broadly accepted--and, importantly, flexible enough to be changed or replaced in response to political and economic feedback. While adhering to his earlier definition of institutions as the formal and informal rules that constrain human economic behavior, he extends his analysis to explore the deeper determinants of how these rules evolve and how economies change. Drawing on recent work by psychologists, he identifies intentionality as the crucial variable and proceeds to demonstrate how intentionality emerges as the product of social learning and how it then shapes the economy's institutional foundations and thus its capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.

Understanding the Process of Economic Change accounts not only for past institutional change but also for the diverse performance of present-day economies. This major work is therefore also an essential guide to improving the performance of developing countries.

Author Biography

Douglass C. North is professor of economics and Spencer T. Olin Professor in Arts and Science at Washington University in St. Louis. He was the Corecipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1993.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
An Outline of the Process of Economic Changep. 1
The Issues Involved in Understanding Economic Changep. 9
Introductionp. 11
Uncertainty in a Non-ergodic Worldp. 13
Belief Systems, Culture, and Cognitive Sciencep. 23
Consciousness and Human Intentionalityp. 38
The Scaffolds Humans Erectp. 48
Taking Stockp. 65
The Road Aheadp. 81
Introductionp. 83
The Evolving Human Environmentp. 87
The Sources of Order and Disorderp. 103
Getting It Right and Getting It Wrongp. 116
The Rise of the Western Worldp. 127
The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Unionp. 146
Improving Economic Performancep. 155
Where Are We Going?p. 166
Bibliographyp. 171
Indexp. 183
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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