A neo-institutionalism of measurement, without measurement: A comment on Douglas Allen’s The Institutional Revolution
Deirdre N. McCloskey Pages 363-373
In his elegant book Douglas Allen claims that an improvement in the measurement of Nature made for lower transaction costs and the Industrial Revolution. His argument is a typical example of neo-institutionalism in the style of Douglass North (1990) and North et al. (2009). A fall in a wedge of inefficiency is supposed to provide Good Incentives, and the modern world. But the elimination of wedges lead merely to Harberger Triangles of improved efficiency—not to the factor of 100 in properly measured real income per head, which is the Great Enrichment 1800 to the present to be explained. Allen does yeoman work in explaining some of the peculiarities of British public administration, such as the reliance on aristocratic honor and on the prize system in naval warfare. But he attributes to public administration an implausible effect on private incomes. The merging of power and plenty is mistaken. Further, the alleged increase in a modern ability to measure marginal products is implausible. Large modern enterprises face greater, not smaller, problems of assessing the contribution of individuals. Allen’s book on measurement does not measure, and the probable order of magnitude of the items he focuses on is too small to explain any but the details of administration.
The Institutional Revelation: A comment on Douglas W. Allen’s The Institutional Revolution
Joel Mokyr, José-Antonio Espín-Sánchez Pages 375-381
Institutions are a central topic in economic history. Allen’s work differs in that he is interested in institutions per se, not as a means to economic performance and prosperity. The purpose of this book is to explain the institutions of the premodern world and to show why they changed. His argument is that in a Principal-Agent situation, before the Industrial Revolution, it was harder for the Principal to attribute whether the failure of the project was due to acts of nature or some acts of the agent, hence the “strange” institutions. In a modern world, with a much improved monitoring technology, we can use more “efficient” institutions, hence the Institutional Revolution. Although innovative and interesting, the author over-stresses his argument. Much more than monitoring in a principal-agent relationship is needed to explain the Industrial Revolution and the changes in institutions associated with it.
The Institutional Revolution: A review essay
Richard N. Langlois Pages 383-395
This review essay discusses and appraises Douglas Allen’s The Institutional Revolution (2011) as a way of reflecting on the uses of the New Institutional Economics (NIE) in economic history. It praises and defends Allen’s method of asking “what economic problem were these institutions solving?” But it insists that such comparative-institutional analysis be imbedded within a deeper account of institutional change, one driven principally by changes – often endogenous changes – in the extent of the market and in relative scarcities. The essay supports its argument with a variety of examples of the NIE applied to economic history.
In defence of the institutional revolution
Douglas W. Allen Pages 397-412
I defend my thesis laid out in The Institutional Revolution against the comments made by McCloskey, Espin and Mokyr, and Langlois, who all believe that the weight of the great institutional transition is too great for my theory of measurement, and who all quibble with some aspects of my historical analysis. I argue that some of the comments fail to fully appreciate the Coasean approach, and that most of the historical comments miss the mark. I begin with a short discussion of Coase, and then turn to each author in turn.
Thursday, 28 November 2013
Allen's "The Institutional Revolution"
Volume 26, Issue 4 - December 2013 - of The Review of Austrian Economics continues a series of papers reviewing Doug Allen's recent book The Institutional Revolution: Measurement and the Economic Emergence of the Modern World, ... and what a set of reviewers: Deirdre N. McCloskey, Joel Mokyr and Richard N. Langlois, with a reply by Doug Allen.