Institution as the Fundamental Cause of Long Tern Growth

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INSTITUTIONS AS THE FUNDAMENTAL CAUSE OF LONG-RUN GROWTH Daron Acemoglu Simon Johnson James Robinson Working Paper 10481 NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138 May 2004

Prepared for the Handbook of Economic Growth edited by Philippe Aghion and Steve Durlauf. We thank the editors for their patience and Leopoldo Fergusson, Pablo Querubín and Barry Weingast for their helpful suggestions. The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the National Bureau of Economic Research. ©2004 by Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James Robinson. All rights reserved. Short sections of text, not to exceed two
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More recent incarnations of growth theory, following Romer (1986) and Lucas (1988), endogenize steady-state growth and technical progress, but their explanation for income differences is similar to that of the older theories. For instance, in the model of Romer (1990), a country may be more prosperous than another if it allocates more resources to innovation, but what determines this is essentially preferences and properties of the technology for creating ‘ideas’.1 Though this theoretical tradition is still vibrant in economics and has provided many insights about the mechanics of economic growth, it has for a long time seemed unable to provide a fundamental explanation for economic growth. As North and Thomas (1973, p. 2) put it: “the factors we have listed (innovation, economies of scale, education, capital accumulation etc.) are not causes of growth; they are growth” (italics in original). Factor accumulation and innovation are only proximate causes of growth. In North and Thomas’s view, the fundamental explanation of comparative growth is differences in institutions. What are institutions exactly? North (1990, p. 3) offers the following definition: “Institutions are the rules of the game in a society or, more formally, are the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction.” He goes on to emphasize the key implications of institutions since, “In consequence they structure incentives in human exchange, whether political, social, or economic.” Of

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