Workshop on 'Institutions and the Evolution of Capitalism'

Georgina Gomez

Organized by Georgina Gomez of the Civic Innovation Research Initiative, the aim of the workshop was to rethink the longer historical trends that structured the present economic and social developments.

It included speeches by three international leading scholars on the topic:

The presentations

Geoffrey Hodgson presented the main arguments of his 2016 paper '1688 and all that: property rights, the Glorious Revolution and the rise of British Capitalism' in the Journal of Institutional Economics.

The paper discussed the argument that the security of property rights and the limitations to the powers of the king of England around the 17th century were essential in the origins of the Industrial Revolution and the capitalist system. These are the key propositions of different books and articles published by Douglass North, Barry Weingast, Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson and James Robinson, among other scholars.

Hodgson contends that timing makes these arguments implausible because property rights in England were relatively secure long before the 17th century.  The author offers as an alternative explanation that the religious wars at that time and the expanding British role in global affairs strained the public accounts to the point of forcing the incipient state to a financial and administrative revolution, which implied organizing effective tax collection capacities to finance the wars and stimulating production to an industrialised scale. The private financial sector coupled the expansion by transforming its rules and rights with modern institutions, such as making debt saleable and land eligible as collateral.

A link to the whole paper as an open source pdf and Professor Hodgson's presentation are available below.

Tine De Moor outlined the highlights of her research project on the Commons and The dynamics of European institutions for collective action over the past 1000 years.

The concept of commons was used in the lecture in reference to 'governance regimes of natural or human-made resources shared among different members of a group according to collectively set agreements'.

The question that leads De Moor’s research project is why some commons persist over centuries when others do not. A research team has revised documents on cases dating back 1000 years in the Netherlands, Italy, Britain and Spain and found a myriad of examples of commons that have persisted over the centuries, even embedded in capitalist systems that sustain private property as one of their central characteristics.

The commons that continue to exist in time share some key characteristics:

  • rights to vote in meetings,
  • obligations to attend meetings,
  • elections of representatives,
  • rotation of responsibilities (including the annoying ones),
  • intensive social control and sanctions for malefactors, and
  • liability of those who shirk responsibility.

While enforcement via written regulation and sanctioning appears as key similarities, so does the remarkably rare and careful use of sanctions. Common investment in the internalization of the rules, instead, appears as a crucial characteristic across the various case studies.

A workshop on 'Practicing the Commons' will be held in the University of Utrecht between 10 and 14 July, when further details of this research will be presented.

In the last presentation, Bart Nooteboom refers to the combinations of 'self' and 'other' in present societies and in reference to the first two presenters who indirectly addressed the loose boundaries between self and other.

Nooteboom reasoned that limiting the self for others is not a moral duty or limitation of freedom, but arises autonomously from inside, either as an overflow from the fullness of life, as Nietzsche proposed, or as a deep-seated feeling of responsibility that precedes the self, as Levinas argued, as an escape from the limitations of the self.

The speaker considered the convenience of a set of shared values, which are not necessarily universal in that they depend on historical conditions and priorities of time and place. Instead, he advocated for a set of shared values of tolerance, appreciation of diversity, taking responsibility for one’s actions and for society, loyalty to collective interests of society, a modicum of altruism, and openness to discussion and exchange of ideas between individuals and cultures.

The underlying belief is that people are not autonomous, are limitedly rational, and do not have any given, unitary identity that is to be revealed in ‘authentic expression’. People develop their identity in interaction with other people. The ability to ‘cross cognitive distance’ to others who think differently also favours innovation and opens up the need to develop attitudes and skills of collaboration and trust.


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