Economics Dictionary of Arguments

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Institutional drift: Institutional drift refers to the gradual, unplanned, or unintended changes in the functioning, norms, or practices of institutions over time. This shift can occur due to external influences, societal changes, or incremental adjustments within the institution itself, leading to deviations from its original purpose or design without explicit decision-making or formal changes. See also Society, Economy, Change, Institutions, Progress, Decision-making processes.
Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

Author Concept Summary/Quotes Sources

Daron Acemoglu on Institutional Drift - Dictionary of Arguments

Acemoglu I 108
Institutional Drift/Acemoglu/Robinson: (...) even societies that are far less complex than our modern society create political and economic institutions that have powerful effects on the lives of their members. No two societies create the same institutions; they will have distinct customs, different systems of property rights (...).
E.g., Some will recognize the authority of elders, others will not; some will achieve some degree of political centralization early on, but not others. Societies are constantly subject to economic and political conflict that is resolved in different ways because of specific historical differences, the role of individuals, or just random factors. These differences are often small to start with, but they cumulate, creating a process of institutional drift. Just as two isolated populations of organisms will drift apart slowly in a process of genetic drift, because random genetic mutations cumulate, two otherwise similar societies will also slowly drift apart institutionally.
Acemoglu I 114
E.g., Western Europe, experiencing many of the same historical processes, had institutions similar to England at the time of the Industrial Revolution. There were small but consequential differences between England and the rest, which is why the Industrial Revolution happened in England and not France. This revolution then created an entirely new situation and considerably different sets of challenges to European regimes, which in turn spawned a new set of conflicts culminating in the French Revolution. The French Revolution was another critical juncture that led the institutions of Western Europe to converge with those of England, while Eastern Europe diverged further.
Acemoglu I 208
E.g., (...)the Glorious Revolution involved the emergence of a new regime based on constitutional rule and pluralism. This outcome was a consequence of the drift in English institutions and the way they interacted with critical junctures. Feudalism spread throughout most of Europe, West and East. But (...) Western and Eastern Europe began to diverge radically after the Black Death. Small differences in political and economic institutions meant that in the West the balance of power led to institutional improvement;
Acemoglu I 209
in the East, to institutional deterioration. But this was not a path that would necessarily and inexorably lead to inclusive institutions. Many more crucial turns would have to be taken on the way. Though the Magna Carta had attempted to establish some basic institutional foundations for constitutional rule, many other parts of Europe, even Eastern Europe, saw similar struggles with similar documents. Yet, after the Black Death, Western Europe significantly drifted away from the East. Documents such as the Magna Carta started to have more bite in the West. In the East, they came to mean little.
Trade: This drift of institutions now interacted with another critical juncture caused by the massive expansion of trade into the Atlantic. (...) one crucial way in which this influenced future institutional dynamics depended on whether or not the Crown was able to monopolize this trade.
[Merchands] wanted and demanded different economic institutions, and as they got wealthier through trade, they became more powerful. The same forces were at work in France, Spain, and Portugal.

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Acemoglu II
James A. Acemoglu
James A. Robinson
Economic origins of dictatorship and democracy Cambridge 2006

Acemoglu I
James A. Acemoglu
James A. Robinson
Why nations fail. The origins of power, prosperity, and poverty New York 2012

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