Is institutional economics really “root and branch” economics?
Hamilton begins this article by referring to what he believed to be the seating arrangements of the French Assembly at the time of the French Revolution of 1789. On the right, parties were seated according to their degree of support for the ancien régime, with the extreme right being occupied by the most loyal. They were the Royalists and, according to Hamilton, wanted to preserve all of the past. On the left, parties were seated according to their degree of disagreement with the ancien régime, with the extreme left being occupied by the most opposed. The parties on the extreme left, according to Hamilton, wanted to eradicate the old system, “root and branch.” Hamilton argues that the thinking on both the left and the right were (and still are) dominated by ideology, and ideology is a particular orientation toward a hierarchical system. The left was against the existing one, the right was for it. The ideology of both the left and the right, according to Hamilton, is “root and branch” thinking. Moving the whole seating arrangement or spectrum into the present day, Hamilton seats himself and institutional or evolutionary economics in the middle. He argues that institutional economics is not ideological, and by this he means that it is not oriented toward the preservation or the replacement of the existing social system. Instead, evolutionary economics is instrumental, and by this he means that it is oriented toward solving specific social problems. Institutionalism is not root and branch economics, Hamilton concludes.