The Living Thing / Notebooks : Institutions

Douglass North, Elinor Ostrom, Daron Acemoglu, Ronald Coase and colleagues, broadly construed. See also: Market design, economic inequality, capitalism’s end game, democracy, insurgency.

What are the effects of the social arrangements we construct for ourselves? We tend to talk openly about constructing or intervening in a limited subset of these, say “a robust free press”, and “competitive markets”. Our lives are, however, the site of intersections of a whole swag of co-evolved systems; manners, notions of honour, legal systems, clientilism, slavery, freedoms, states (democratic or otherwise), property rights, religions… For all that it is not clear how to measure these things, it is clear that they make huge differences to our society and how it works… and they are new, and contingent. The world you grew up in is not the only possible one. (Unless you are Francis Fukuyama circa 2000). To this last point, I recommend, as a technocratic 21st century global citizen, sitting down for an afternoon to discuss politics with a hunter-gatherer from a tiny polity somewhere in the world. Or a Red state Republican. See how much shared vocabulary you don’t have.

I’ll probably file social capital, whatever that is, here, since whatever use the term does reliably seem to have have is about institutional function.


Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., & Robinson, J. A.(2001) The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation. American Economic Review, 91(5), 1369–1401. DOI.
Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S., & Robinson, J. A.(2012) The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation: Reply. The American Economic Review, 102(6), 3077–3110. DOI.
Albouy, D. Y.(2012) The colonial origins of comparative development: an empirical investigation: comment. The American Economic Review, 102(6), 3059–3076. DOI.
Bowles, S., Choi, J.-K., & Hopfensitz, A. (2003) The co-evolution of individual behaviors and social institutions. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 223(2), 135–147.
Buchanan, J. M.(1954) Social Choice, Democracy, and Free Markets. Journal of Political Economy, 62(2), 114–123.
Buchanan, J. M., & Tullock, G. (1962) The Calculus of Consent: Logical Foundations of Constitutional Democracy. . University of Michigan Press
Crawford, S. E., & Ostrom, E. (1995) A Grammar of Institutions. The American Political Science Review, 89, 582–600.
de Tocqueville, A. (1840) Democracy in America.
Denzau, A. T., & North, D. C.(1994) Shared Mental Models: Ideologies and Institutions. Kyklos, 47, 357–331.
Engerman, S. L., & Sokoloff, K. L.(2002) Factor endowments, inequality, and paths of development among new world economics. . National Bureau of Economic Research
Hofman, A. A.(2001) Long run economic development in Latin America in a comparative perspective: Proximate and ultimate causes. (Vol. 8). United Nations Publications
Karl, T. L.(2000) Economic inequality and democratic instability. Journal of Democracy, 11(1), 149–156.
Karl, T. L.(2003) The vicious cycle of inequality in Latin America. What Justice? Whose Justice? Fighting for Fairness in Latin America, 133–157.
Keith, R. G.(1971) Encomienda, Hacienda and Corregimiento in Spanish America: A Structural Analysis. The Hispanic American Historical Review, 51(3), 431–446. DOI.
Loasby, B. J.(1999) Knowledge, institutions, and evolution in economics. . Routledge
Lockhart, J. (1969) Encomienda and Hacienda: The Evolution of the Great Estate in the Spanish Indies. The Hispanic American Historical Review, 49(3), 411–429. DOI.
Lockhart, J. (1972) The Social History of Colonial Spanish America: Evolution and Potential. Latin American Research Review, 7(1), 6–45.
North, D. C.(1994) Economic Performance Through Time. The American Economic Review, 84, 359–368.
North, D. C., Wallis, J. J., & Weingast, B. R.(2009) Violence and social orders : a conceptual framework for interpreting recorded human history. . Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press
Ostrom, E. (1990) Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions). . Cambridge University Press
Ostrom, E. (1992) The Rudiments of a Theory of the Origins, Survival, and Performance of Common Property Institutions. Making the Commons Work: Theory, Practice and Policy.
Ostrom, E. (1998) A Behavioral Approach to the Rational Choice Theory of Collective Action. The American Political Science Review, 92, 1–22. DOI.
Ostrom, E. (2000) Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14, 137–158. DOI.
Ostrom, E. (2002) Social capital: a fad or a fundamental concept?. In Social Capital: A Multifaceted Perspective. World Bank Publications
Ostrom, E., Burger, J., Field, C. B., Norgaard, R. B., & Policansky, D. (1999) Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges. Science, 284, 278–282. DOI.
Przeworski, A. (2004) The last instance: Are institutions the primary cause of economic development?. European Journal of Sociology, 45(02), 165–188.
Putnam. (1993) The Prosperous Community: Social Capital and Public Life. The American Prospect, 13, 65–78.
Putnam, Leonardi, & Nanetti. (1993) Social Capital and institutional success. In Making democracy work: civic traditions in modern Italy. Princeton University Press Princeton, NJ
Schlager, E., & Ostrom, E. (1992) Property-Rights Regimes and Natural Resources: A Conceptual Analysis. Land Economics, 68, 249–262. DOI.
Sokoloff, K. L., & Engerman, S. L.(2000) History Lessons: Institutions, Factors Endowments, and Paths of Development in the New World. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14(3), 217–232.
Zingales, L. (2000) In Search of New Foundations. The Journal of Finance, 55(4), 1623–1653. DOI.