chapter  3
16 Pages

Intellectual antecedents of institutional economics

Introduction The intellectual antecedents of institutional economics are found not in neoclassical economics, but in the political economy of the classicists and their critics. Dissenters from the mainstream of conventional economic theory have also stimulated or joined the institutionalists over the last hundred years; in its American origins, for example, institutional economics has been infl uenced above all else by the ideas of Charles S. Peirce and John Dewey. The current chapter will explore these developments in greater detail, in order to prepare the way for a better understanding of the nature and signifi cance of institutions and institutionalism-terms which, like many others in the social sciences (including neoclassical economics), suffer from the ambiguity inherent in the social sciences’ tendency to attach a highly technical meaning to words which are generally used in a looser and more colloquial manner. This lack of specifi c meaning in our vocabulary may have encouraged the escape of some economists into numbers and mathematical symbols, in an attempt to overcome, by a fi ctitious and purely formal precision, the ambiguity of our language. (Herbert Lüthy speaks in this context, and not without justifi cation, of a hereditary epidemic disease of social accounts and the social sciences. 1 ) Chapter 4 will provide a precise defi nition of the nature and meaning of institutions, as the term has come to be used by institutional economists; the present chapter will show how the intellectual antecedents are connected to the general orientation, point of view, or perspective from which institutional economists approach the study and analysis of the process of production, distribution, and development.