'Whatever is, is Right'? Economic Institutions in Pre-Industrial Europe

36 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2007

See all articles by Sheilagh Ogilvie

Sheilagh Ogilvie

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Economics; CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)


Institutions - the structures of rules and norms governing economic transactions - are widely assigned a central role in economic development. Yet economic history is still dominated by the belief that institutions arise and survive because they are economically efficient. This article shows that alternative explanations of institutions, particularly those incorporating distributional effects, are consistent with economic theory and supported by empirical findings. Distributional conflicts provide a better explanation than efficiency for the core economic institutions of pre-industrial Europe: serfdom, the community, the craft guild, and the merchant guild. The article concludes by proposing four desiderata for any economic theory of institutions.

Suggested Citation

Ogilvie, Sheilagh, 'Whatever is, is Right'? Economic Institutions in Pre-Industrial Europe. Economic History Review, Vol. 60, No. 4, pp. 649-684, November 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1022780 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0289.2007.00408.x

Sheilagh Ogilvie (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Economics ( email )

Austin Robinson Building
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Cambridge, CB3 9DD
United Kingdom
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44-1223-335475 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.econ.cam.ac.uk/people/faculty/sco2

CESifo (Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute)

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679

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