Tag Archives: Douglas North


How institutions change – and why nations fail

In my last post, I wrote about why institutions matter for economic development. I also highlighted that the theories of institutional economics and of complex systems actually come to very similar conclusions about how institutional structures, underpinned by basic beliefs or paradigms of how the world works, shape relatively persistent patterns of behaviour, which can be both beneficial for, or holding back development. In this post, I want to share a model that describes the dynamics of institutional change. It is largely based on Douglas North’s book ‘Understanding the Process of Economic Change’ [1], but uses the systems iceberg as a canvas. If you haven’t read my last post, I recommend you head over there and read that one first.

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Refresher: why institutions matter for economic development

Prompted by some work for a client I dived back into the literature on institutions this week. It was a fascinating journey and I have discovered some other the things I have known before and confirmed many of my suspicions with the project at hand. Indeed, the reading confirmed my view that most market systems development projects pay too little attention to the institutions in a country, given their massive importance in shaping economic development. There is too much focus on finding solutions to fixing problems in the short term.

What I found fascinating while reading is that the insights from the theories on institutions and on complex systems actually overlap really neatly, with maybe slightly different ways of approaching change but in a coherent and complementary way.

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