Under the Thumb of History? Political Institutions and the Scope for Action

42 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2014 Last revised: 31 Jan 2014

See all articles by Abhijit V. Banerjee

Abhijit V. Banerjee

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics

Esther Duflo

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics; Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD)

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Date Written: January 2014

Abstract

This paper discusses the two leading views of history and political institutions. For some scholars, institutions are mainly products of historical logic, while for others, accidents, leaders, and decisions have a significant impact. We argue that while there is clear evidence that history matters and has long-term effects, there is not enough data to help us distinguish between the two views. Faced with this uncertainty, what is a social scientist to do? We argue that given the possibility that policy decisions indeed make a difference, it makes sense to assume they do and to try to improve policymaking.

Suggested Citation

Banerjee, Abhijit V. and Duflo, Esther, Under the Thumb of History? Political Institutions and the Scope for Action (January 2014). NBER Working Paper No. w19848. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2384305

Abhijit V. Banerjee (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Esther Duflo

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

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United Kingdom

Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD) ( email )

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United States

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