Book cover for 'Imperfect Institutions'
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Imperfect Institutions

Possibilities and Limits of Reform
Thráinn Eggertsson
Surveys the new institutional theory of economic prosperity -- and decline. Explores institutional policy and opportunities for reform.


The emergence of New Institutional Economics toward the end of the twentieth century profoundly changed our ideas about the organization of economic systems and their social and political foundations. Imperfect Institutions explores recent developments in this field and pushes the discussion forward by allowing for incomplete knowledge of social systems and unexpected system dynamics and, above all, by focusing explicitly on institutional policy. Empirical studies extending from Africa to Iceland are cited in support of the theoretical argument.

In Imperfect Institutions Thráinn Eggertsson extends his attempt to integrate and develop the new field that began with his acclaimed Economic Behavior and Institutions (1990), which has been translated into six languages. This latest work analyzes why institutions that create relative economic backwardness emerge and persist and considers the possibilities and limits of institutional reform.

Thráinn Eggertsson is Professor of Economics at the University of Iceland and Global Distinguished Professor of Politics at New York University. Previously published works include Economic Behavior and Institutions (1990) and Empirical Studies in Institutional Change with Lee Alston and Douglass North (1996).

Praise / Awards

  • "Eggertsson's analysis of institutional pathology offers powerful tools to examine the poverty traps that have kept millions of people from achieving their dreams of well-being. Eggertsson demonstrates that scholars and policy makers have few degrees of freedom in their efforts to analysis and achieve reform. Taking the history of a people and their institutions seriously, however, may enable reformers to use unexpected exogenous shocks to open windows for reform if they can learn how to change underlying policy models so as to improve political and economic conditions. Reading this book will help all to assess the dangers and the possibilities of engaging in institutional reform."
    —Elinor Ostrom, Indiana University

  • "The distinction [Eggertsson] draws between production and technologies . . . and social technologies (which are specific to societies or countries), and his emphasis on social models (people's visions of how the social world works), will have a lasting value in future research."
    —Avinash K. Dixit

  • "Imperfect Institutions will appeal primarily to those interested in the role of institutions in the relative growth of nation-states, the possibilities nation-states have to escape their histories, and the prospect they have for eluding poverty traps. The book is almost evengly split between theory and policy with many applications plus an extensive case study of Eggertsson's home country, Iceland."
    —Robert M. Yarbrough, Amherst College, Journal of Bioeconomics

  • "Contends that imperfect institutions are the most significant factor explaining the relative poverty of nations, identifies the institutional maladies responsible for poverty and backwardness, and considers possible cures . . . Describes how traditional societies create nonmarket institutions to lower the cost of dangerous risks from nature and other sources, and how these traditional institutions can block change, creating a poverty trap."
    Journal of Economic Literature

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Copyright © 2005, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 272 pages.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2009
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02354-7

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