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Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions) Paperback – October 26, 1990

ISBN-13: 978-0521397346 ISBN-10: 9780521397346

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Product Details

  • Series: Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions
  • Paperback: 159 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (October 26, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780521397346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521397346
  • ASIN: 0521397340
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96,244 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"At a time when economic and political institutions are being reformed and replaced all over the world, North's book is required reading for all social scientists and policy makers." T.N. Srinivasan, Yale University

"North here draws upon the literature concerning the formation of economic ask significant questions about differences among economies across time and space...This is an exciting and stimulating work, and one that will leave its mark upon the work of economic historians. It will also be important for political scientists and other social scientists, to learn the message and relevance of an influential strain of non-mainstream economic thinking." Stanley Engerman, University of Rochester

"In a careful but wide-ranging analysis grounded in rational-choice theory, he stresses the ways in which institutional arrangements, once adopted, may lead quite rational actors to behave in ways that are collectively suboptimal." Paul Pierson, World Politics

Book Description

An analytical framework for explaining the ways in which institutions and institutional change affect the performance of economies is developed in this analysis of economic structures.

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Customer Reviews

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In about 150 pages, North presents an interesting and thought provoking theory of economic growth.
David S. Olsen
A lot is covered in this book, but some general themes and arguments can be gleaned from the very short and immensely accessible number of pages.
James F. Mueller
One concept I find unusual is North's concept of "the game" of organizations and social human interaction.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By D. W. MacKenzie on April 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
These are strange times in the economics profession. Most economists insist upon representing actual economic systems with mathematical models that bear little resemblance to reality. The results of these models are often quite strange. Government deficits are offset by taxpayers who save more money in anticipation of higher future taxes. Monetary policy is neutral; it has no real predictable effects. We are in equilibrium in every phase of the business cycle. Investors might as well pick stocks by throwing darts. Economic analysis is judged by its formalism, not its realism.

This book by Douglass North is a refreshing change from `economics as usual'. Here the factors that matter most are real institutions and actual history. North draws upon the right kind sources for his theoretical underpinnings (Coase, Hayek, Ostrom, Olson, Veblen- yes Veblen too). North also focuses on an issue of primary importance- economic performance through time. How does economic development happen? Why does it happen in some nations and not others?

There are some important ideas here. We need to think in terms of adaptive efficency (p80-81). Incremental changes in institutions comes from entrepreneurs (p8). We should understand institutional change in terms of transaction costs, relative prices, and ideology (p86). North has constructed a theory of institutional change using a blend of common sense and subtlety that is rare in modern economics. This book should be required reading for all econ grad students.

There are some historical examples sprinkled through this book. Personally, I would have liked to see more history. But it is still the case that there is more history here than one typically finds in contemporary economics. Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic performance is not easy reading, but it is easier to read and vastly more informative than the math models that most economists try to pass off as proper economic analysis.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Matthew P. Arsenault on August 1, 2006
Format: Paperback
North's work attempts to show how hard-rational choice theory and neoclassical economic theory are weak in that they argue that cooperation and coordination are not fundamental to transactions. North writes that in the "zero transaction-cost world, bargaining has no place, however, in the real world, institutions, bargaining and cooperation are necessary" (16).

The author argues that the rigidity of the human behavior described by hard-rational choice theorists is not practical in a real-world sense. For example, actors do not have perfect "computational power" and as such they don't have a perfect description of the world. Rather, the situations faced by actors are complex and uncertain. As such, transaction outcomes are unpredictable. North writes, "Uncertainties arise from incomplete information with respect to the behavior of other individuals in the process of human interaction" (25).

In order to protect oneself or maximize his or her individual utility, an individual must collect information regarding a transaction. The costs of transaction "consist of the costs of measuring the valuable attributes of what is being exchanged and the costs of protecting rights and policing and enforcing agreement" (27). Institutions are created to generate regular patterns in human interaction. Doing so decreases the costs of transaction, or "playing the game."

However, the game is never stable and as such institutions are malleable; they are capable of change. Yet the changes occur slowly, by increments. In the later chapters of the book, North takes a historical look at economic development, stability and change. Had all things been equal, transaction costs being zero, North argues that little diversity between economic systems would exist.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By J. Michael Showalter on August 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
I have a hunch that this is one of the kind of books such that only people whom have in a sense already specialized come upon it and decide to buy it. First: if you are one of these kind of people, the articles contained in this volume are well written and though not classics, could further your understanding of 'our' field. Second: if you are not already a specialist, there are other books by Douglass North and Mancur Olson that can better illustrate the general principles on which the economic/political hybrid field is based.... Olson's "The Logic of Collective Action" illustrates the development of institutions while Norths "Structure and Change..." shows how they have functioned throughout time...
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Thomas Juli on June 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
If you ever wondered what new institutional economics is all about take this book. While it may be helpful to have an economics background the content is accessible to a wider audience. It is an absolute must for everyone who is interested in the interaction of political, social, cultural, religious, and historical elements in economic growth and policy. As a former student of North I love coming back to this book and everytime you get something new out of it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Øystein Sjølie on May 18, 2004
Format: Paperback
The puzzle of the modern world is not that so many people are poor, but that so many are wealthy. How do democracies, with well-defined property rights and education for all com into place? In this Nobel prize winning work, North investigates some issues overlooked by most economists: the role of a society's institutions, defined as formal and informal constraints, varying from written laws to vague values (but important nevertheless) in a society. Economic theory is not able to explain the great differences in wealth between nations, argues North, and that is certainly a shame, because that would be the most interesting explanation it could possibly make. The solution is to include institutions into economic analysis.
Institutions determine transaction costs. In neoclassical economic theory, transaction costs are usually assumed to be zero (for reasons of comfort). North assumes transaction costs to make up half of the economy in a modern well-organized Western society with efficient institutions. A major reason for developing countries to be poor is that transaction costs are prohibitive, obstructing the benefits of trade.
North asks some extremely important questions in this book, but I was a bit disappointed that he didn't offer more answers. English not being my natural tongue, I found the book a bit hard to read. However, being very interested in the subject, I found it well worth the effort. Without a major (interest) in economics, you should probably enjoy some of the reviews instead. North's main answer to the main question, by the way, is that countries will prosper if the incentives created by their institutions motivate production, and not redistribution.
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