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The Roadblock of Culturalist Economics: Economic Change á la Douglass North

Khalil, Elias (2006): The Roadblock of Culturalist Economics: Economic Change á la Douglass North.

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Abstract

In his 2005 book, Understanding the Process of Economic Change, North offers a rough account of economic change that can be called “culturalist economics.” In his account, he attributes the change of well being of individuals to, besides technology and demographics, cultural heritage or cultural beliefs. Using this basis, he then attributes "the mystery of the unique evolution of western Europe" to a causative view that combines "Christian dogma" and English "individualism." This combinatory belief assures property rights, and hence explains the success of Western Europe and the US and the failure of Islam and Latin America in terms of their respective economic development. But North’s culturalist economics faces a roadblock: it does not explain the origin of beliefs, and it neglects the role of rational choice in manufacturing beliefs. Specifically, it ignores the roles of agency, revolutionary change, and the dynamics of empire.

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