Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy

Lessons from Medieval Trade

by Avner Greif

Series: Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions

It is widely believed that current disparities in economic, political, and social outcomes reflect distinct institutions. Institutions are invoked to explain why some countries are rich and others poor, some democratic and others dictatorial. But arguments of this sort gloss over the question of what institutions are, how they come about, and why they persist. They also fail to explain why institutions are influenced by the past, why it is that they can sometimes change, why they differ so much from society to society, and why it is hard to study them empirically and devise a policy aimed at altering them. This 2006 book seeks to overcome these problems, which have exercised economists, sociologists, political scientists, and a host of other researchers who use the social sciences to study history, law, and business administration. It presents a multi-disciplinary perspective to study endogenous institutions and their dynamics.


In The Press

'Greif strips economic transactions down to their elements. He focuses on the core question: who (or what) were the watchdogs that allowed the merchants to trust one another and to bear with the princes who could confiscate the fruits of all their efforts? And who (or what) were the watchdogs' watchdogs? Greif repeatedly and carefully relates these questions to economic theory. He illustrates them with real transactions of medieval merchants. He takes the right approach to economic development, and thereby achieves an original and important new perspective on its causes. Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy is a seminal work in economics and in history. It should be read by all social scientists.' George A. Akerlof, 2001 Nobel Laureate in Economics and University of California, Berkeley