Institutional economics

Institutional economics focuses on understanding the role of the evolutionary process and the role of institutions in shaping economic behaviour. Its original focus lay in Thorstein Veblen's instinct-oriented dichotomy between technology on the one side and the "ceremonial" sphere of society on the other. Its name and core elements trace back to a 1919 American Economic Review article by Walton H. Hamilton.[1][2] Institutional economics emphasizes a broader study of institutions and views markets as a result of the complex interaction of these various institutions (e.g. individuals, firms, states, social norms). The earlier tradition continues today as a leading heterodox approach to economics.[3] A significant variant is the new institutional economics from the later 20th century, which integrates later developments of neoclassical economics into the analysis. Law and economics has been a major theme since the publication of the Legal Foundations of Capitalism by John R. Commons in 1924. Behavioral economics is another hallmark of institutional economics based on what is known about psychology and cognitive science, rather than simple assumptions of economic behavior. Institutional economics focuses on learning, bounded rationality, and evolution (rather than assume stable preferences, rationality and equilibrium). It was a central part of American economics in the first part of the 20th century, including such famous but diverse economists as Thorstein Veblen, Wesley Mitchell, and John R. Commons.[4] Some institutionalists see Karl Marx as belonging to the institutionalist tradition, because he described capitalism as a historically-bounded social system; other institutionalist economists disagree with Marx's definition of capitalism, instead seeing defining features such as markets, money and the private ownership of production as indeed evolving over time, but as a result of the purposive actions of individuals. "Traditional" institutionalism [1] rejects the reduction of institutions to simply tastes, technology, and nature (see naturalistic fallacy). Tastes, along with expectations of the future, habits, and motivations, not only determine the nature of institutions but are limited and shaped by them. If people live and work in institutions on a regular basis, it shapes their world-views. Fundamentally, this traditional institutionalism (and its modern counterpart institutionalist political economy) emphasizes the legal foundations of an economy (see John R. Commons) and the evolutionary, habituated, and volitional processes by which institutions are erected and then changed (see John Dewey, Thorstein Veblen, and Daniel Bromley.) The vacillations of institutions are necessarily a result of the very incentives created by such institutions, and are thus endogenous. Emphatically, traditional institutionalism is in many ways a response to the current economic orthodoxy; its reintroduction in the form of institutionalist political economy is thus an explicit challenge to neoclassical economics, since it is based on the fundamental premise that neoclassicists oppose: that economics cannot be separated from the political and social system within which it is embedded. Some of the authors associated with this school include Robert H. Frank, Warren Samuels, Mark Tool, Geoffrey Hodgson, Daniel Bromley, Jonathan Nitzan, Shimshon Bichler, Elinor Ostrom, Anne Mayhew, John Kenneth Galbraith and Gunnar Myrdal, but even the sociologist C. Wright Mills was highly influenced by the institutionalist approach in his major studies. [edit]Thorstein Veblen Main articles: Thorstein Veblen and The Theory of the Leisure Class Thorstein Veblen came from rural Mid-western America and Norwegian immigrant family Thorstein Veblen (18571929) wrote his first and most influential book while he was at the University of Chicago, on The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899).[5] In it he analyzed the motivation in capitalism to conspicuously consume their riches as a way of demonstrating success. Conspicuous leisure was another focus of Veblen's critique. The concept of conspicuous consumption was in direct contradiction to the neoclassical view that capitalism was efficient. In The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904) Veblen distinguished the motivations of industrial production for people to use things from business motivations that used, or misused, industrial infrastructure for profit, arguing that the former is often hindered because businesses pursue the latter. Output and technological advance are restricted by business practices and the creation of monopolies. Businesses protect their existing capital investments and employ excessive credit, leading to depressions and increasing military expenditure and war through business control of political power. These two books, focusing on criticism first of consumerism, and second of profiteering, did not advocate change. Through the 1920s and after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 Thorstein Veblen's warnings of the tendency for wasteful consumption and the necessity of creating sound financial institutions seemed to ring true. Veblen remains a leading critic, which cautions against the excesses of "the American way". Thorstein Veblen wrote in 1898 an article entitled "Why is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science"[6] and he became the precursor of current evolutionary economics.

John R. Commons Main article: John R. Commons John R. Commons (18621945) also came from mid-Western America. Underlying his ideas, consolidated in Institutional Economics (1934) was the concept that the economy is a web of relationships between people with diverging interests. There are monopolies, large corporations, labour disputes and fluctuating business cycles. They do however have an interest in resolving these disputes. Government, thought Commons, ought to be the mediator between the conflicting groups. Commons himself devoted much of his time to advisory and mediation work on government boards and industrial commissions. [edit]Wesley Mitchell Main article: Wesley Mitchell Wesley Clair Mitchell (August 5, 1874 October 29, 1948) was an American economist known for his empirical work on business cycles and for guiding the National Bureau of Economic Research in its first decades. Mitchells teachers included economists Thorstein Veblen and J. L. Laughlin and philosopher John Dewey. [edit]Clarence Ayres Main article: Clarence Edwin Ayres Clarence Ayres (May 6, 1891 July 24, 1972) was the principal thinker of what some has called the Texas school of institutional economics. Ayres developed on the ideas of Thorstein Veblen with a dichotomy of "technology" and "institutions" to separate the inventive from the inherited aspects of economic structures. He claimed that technology was always one step ahead of the socio-cultural institutions. Indeed, it can be argued that Ayres was not an "institutionalist" in any normal sense of the term; since he identified institutions with sentiments and superstition and in consequence institutions only played a kind of residual role in this theory of development which core center was that of technology. Indeed, Ayres was under strong influence of Hegel and institutions for Ayres had the same function as "Schein" (with the connotation of deception, and illusion) for Hegel. A more appropriate name for Ayres' position would be that of a "techno-behaviorist" rather than an institutionalist. [edit]Adolf Berle Main article: Adolf Berle Adolf Augustus Berle, Jr. Adolf A. Berle (18951971) was one of the first authors to combine legal and economic analysis, and his work stands as a founding pillar of thought in modern corporate governance. Like Keynes, Berle was at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, but subsequently resigned from his diplomatic job dissatisfied with the Versailles Treaty terms. In his book with Gardiner C. Means, The Modern Corporation and Private Property (1932), he detailed the evolution in the contemporary economy of big business, and argued that those who controlled big firms should be better held to account. Directors of companies are held to account to the shareholders of companies, or not, by the rules found in company law statutes. This might include rights to elect and fire the management, require for regular general meetings, accounting standards, and so on. In 1930s America, the typical company laws (e.g. in Delaware) did not clearly mandate such rights. Berle argued that the unaccountable directors of companies were therefore apt to funnel the fruits of enterprise profits into their own pockets, as well as manage in their own interests. The ability to do this was supported by the fact that the majority of shareholders in big public companies were single individuals, with scant means of communication, in short, divided and conquered. Berle served in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration through the depression, and was a key member of the so-called "Brain trust" developing many of the New Deal policies. In 1967, Berle and Means issued a revised edition of their work, in which the preface added a new dimension. It was not only the separation of controllers of companies from the owners as shareholders at stake. They posed the question of what the corporate structure was really meant to achieve. Stockholders toil not, neither do they spin, to earn [dividends and share price increases]. They are beneficiaries by position only. Justification for their inheritance... can be founded only upon social grounds... that justification turns on the distribution as well as the existence of wealth. Its force exists only in direct ratio to the number of individuals who hold such wealth. Justification for the stockholder's existence thus depends on increasing distribution within the American population. Ideally the stockholder's position will be impregnable only when every American family has its fragment of that position and of the wealth by which the opportunity to develop individuality becomes fully actualized/ Critics of institutionalism have maintained that the concept of "institution" is so central for all social science that it is senseless to use it as a buzzword for a particular theoretical school. And as a consequence the elusive meaning of the concept of "institution" has resulted in a bewildering and never-ending dispute about which scholars are "institutionalists" or notand a similar confusion about what is supposed to be the core of the theory. In other words, institutional economics have become so popular because it means all things to all people, which in the end of the day is the meaning of nothing. Indeed, it can be argued that the term "institutionalists" was misplaced from the very beginning, since Veblen, Hamilton and Ayres were preoccupied with the evolutionary (and "objectifying") forces of technology and institutions had a secondary place within their theories. Institutions were almost a kind of "anti-stuff," their key concern was on technology and not on institutions. Rather than being "institutional," Veblen, Hamilton and Ayres position is anti-institutional.