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Institutional Economics in the Calculable Future

Paper Session

Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 12:30 PM - 2:15 PM (PST)

Manchester Grand Hyatt, Cortez Hill A
Hosted By: Association for Evolutionary Economics
  • Chair: Tae-Hee Jo, State University of New York-Buffalo State

Pluralism, Interdisciplinarity, and Institutional Economics

Lynne Chester
University of Sydney


Debates about the progress and prospects for heterodox economics invariably refer to pluralism and interdisciplinarity. Can the same be said for the discourse about the state of institutional economics? Often the terms of pluralism and interdisciplinarity are used interchangeably, there is no explicit discussion of how the terms are conceptualised, both terms are treated as being one-dimensional, or there is no recognition of ‘degrees’ of pluralism or interdisciplinarity (for example, see, Gräbner and Stunk 2018; Hodgson 2017). The ‘Roundtable Dialogue on Pluralism’ published in the International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education (Reardon 2015) illustrates several different conceptualizations of pluralism. Definitions of interdisciplinarity also vary across a spectrum from disciplinary integration to the combination of disciplinary approaches (Thompson Klein 2017). This paper explores the role of pluralism and interdisciplinarity vis-à-vis the evolving project of institutional economics, and their potential roles to advance the policy impact and teaching of institutional economics. In so doing, the paper discusses the differing conceptualisations of pluralism and interdisciplinarity, the nature and purpose of institutional economics, and posits a framework to judge its progress (or success). It is argued that Hodgson’s (2019) claims about the ‘failure of heterodox economics to gain ground’ are based on criteria constructed and deployed by mainstream economics, deliberately ignore the projects of the respective heterodox perspectives (including that of institutional economics), and thus act to reinforce the hegemony of the mainstream and, by default, do not consider economics—as reflected by institutional economics and other heterodox perspectives—to be a discipline of the social sciences. On the contrary, this paper seeks to demonstrate that the practice, application and teaching of institutional economics is consistent with being a discipline of the social sciences.

Institutional Economics and the Promise of Pluralism

Geoffrey E. Schneider
Bucknell University


In his recent paper, “The Pathology of Heterodox Economics and the Limits to Pluralism,” Geoff Hodgson argues that contemporary heterodox economics lacks consensus in its approach and even in its definition of what heterodox economics is. In essence, Hodgson finds modern heterodoxy to be weak and fractured, and the pluralist approach doomed to failure. Hodgson argues that by unifying behind a clear identity and, in the process, establishing a raison d’etre, heterodox economists would be better poised to engage with the mainstream. To be effective, this would need to occur under a more marketable moniker than “heterodox” economics. However, my own work for the last four years as Executive Director of the International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics (ICAPE) suggests otherwise. First, as this paper will document, in the U.S. context there is significant overlap in membership between the heterodox associations, especially AFEE, ASE, and URPE. Second, there is increasing overlap between the methodologies utilized in contemporary heterodox economics. Interestingly, a focus on institutions and evolution can be found in almost all heterodox strands. Third, while pluralism can be seen as a weakness, there are significant strengths to a pluralistic approach, both in terms of philosophical appeal and contributions to the discipline. This paper will argue that pluralism is the best way forward for heterodox economists, and that institutional economics should be (and is) at the core of that project.

Promotion and Development of Original Institutional Economics

Zdravka Todorova
Wright State University
Tae-Hee Jo
State University of New York-Buffalo State


The paper discusses the importance of promoting contributions of original institutional economics in a concerted effort to continue developing the approach amidst the challenging landscape of economics doctoral programs. Continuous engagement (“loyalty”) and attracting new interest (“expansion”) are central for the development and dissemination of knowledge informed by original institutional economics. This means that it is imperative for institutional economists to articulate and promote the value of original institutional economics and its contemporary relevance. Such endeavors would only be viable when they are organized through a scientific community, which not only sustains a personal-professional network and but also supports a shared vision and unique theoretical propositions offered by original institutional economics. The paper outlines some of those areas and suggests ways to reach public discourse, graduate students across disciplines, and foster interdisciplinary research. The paper is limited to the following themes: consumption and waste; money and finance; social stratification and inequality; market structure and governance; work; resources and technology; and social costs. Further, the paper suggests areas that could benefit from interdisciplinary collaboration such as theory of the individual and environment, by bringing in contributions from behavioral science, psychology, environmental science, and business to complement developments in original institutional economics as part of the ongoing heterodox economics movement.

The Journal of Economic Issues in the Calculable Future of Original Institutional Economics

William Waller
Hobart and William Smith Colleges


My paper will discuss the role the JEI has in the support and development of original institutional economics. The role of the JEI in institutional economics is to chronical and record the scholarly contributions of original institutional economics. The current state of the JEI in institutional economics is one of stability both financially and in terms of the amount of content. However, the content could be more focused. Our core contributors are often content to contribute short papers rather than more complex and detailed analysis necessary to make truly compelling contributions. The JEI could contribute more to the direction of institutional economics by concentrating on the existing themes of original institutional economics while introducing of new themes and original research in original institutional economics. The current direction of the development of original institutional economics is blind drift. Research groups and communities within original institutional economics are not well organized and consequently their work is diffuse and diluted. The journal could organize work thematically if there were enough submissions to support such a project. Additionally, the ongoing function of the journal should be to articulate, revise and explore the core theoretical and methodological properties on which institutionalists agree. The determination of what those core theoretical and methodological properties are is one of the main intellectual projects of contemporary original institutional economics. The basic parameters of that project for me is that collective human intelligence be tasked with developing the warranted knowledge necessary to solve social problems and trying the solutions so identified and developed in an attempt to provide stable and continuing solutions to the problems of social provisioning. Additionally, that process should be ongoing in order to address inadequate solutions and new problems that emerge in the future. The level of analysis is collective social action and decision making for applying warranted knowledge in a cultural context to social problem solving. I believe engagement with other traditions in economics (both heterodox and mainstream) should occur, for the purpose of extending the research, theoretical development, and the surrounding discourse of original institutional economists. Though agreement on policy issues might be possible. The engagement of institutional economic with mainstream economics in the journal should be limited to ways that complement original institutional economics. Institutional economists should engage with other disciplines. This engagement is essential to original institutional economics to facilitate incorporation of knowledge developed in related fields.

Latin American Development: What about the State, Conflict and Power?

Emilia Ormaechea
IHUCSO (UNL/CONICET), University of Litoral


Several authors have raised the similarities between Latin American structuralism and economic institutionalism, pointing out the possibilities of reciprocal enrichment between both approaches but highlighting, at the same time, the mutual ignorance between them. However, the eventual interaction between these theories was hampered by the advent of the neoclassical -and neoliberal- offensive, and the displacement of Latin American contributions, both in its structuralist and dependency variants. The replacement of these contributions by the neo-structuralist approach implied a displacement of the characteristics of original structuralism, associated with the conception of central- peripheral economies, and the central role of the state for Latin American development. These displacements, I argue, limited the possibility of finding the means to achieve the so-called social transformation, to which institutionalists and structuralists referred. The present article tries, on the one hand, to critically analyze the neo- structuralist discourse, evaluating how these displacements affect the possibility of proposing a structural transformation in Latin America (led by the state). On the other hand, it seeks to recover the dimensions associated with power, conflict and the centrality of the state to rethink the challenges of structural transformation, from which articulations between structuralism and institutionalism could be proposed.
James T. Peach
New Mexico State University
Manuel Ramon de Souza Luz
Federal University of ABC
JEL Classifications
  • B4 - Economic Methodology
  • B4 - Economic Methodology