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11.18 Institutions and Economic Growth

While poor countries have enormous potential for catch-up and convergence,

these advantages will fail to generate positive results on growth in countries

with an inadequate political, legal and regulatory framework. The notion that

institutions profoundly influence the wealth of nations is of course an old idea

first eloquently expressed by Adam Smith. Ever since the publication of Adam

Smith’s Wealth of Nations in 1776 economists have been aware that security of

property rights against expropriation by fellow citizens or the state is an important

condition for encouraging individuals to invest and accumulate capital.

Given this pedigree, economists have tended to centre their analysis of the

deeper determinants of growth on the role of institutions. Emphasis here is

placed on factors such as the role of property rights, the effectiveness of the

legal system, corruption, regulatory structures and the quality of governance

(North, 1990; World Bank, 1997; Olson, 2000; Acemoglu et al., 2001, 2002a;

Glaeser and Shleifer, 2002). From an institutionalist perspective the search for

the deeper determinants of growth has led to what Hibbs (2001) has called ‘the

politicisation of growth theory’. By ‘politicisation’ Hibbs is referring to the

increasing emphasis given by many growth researchers, in particular the seminal

contributions of Douglass North, to the importance of ‘politics, policy and

institutional arrangements’. These factors ultimately determine the structure of

incentives, the ability and willingness of people to save and invest productively,

the security of property rights and the incentive to innovate and participate in

entrepreneurial activity. Political–institutional factors also appear to be robust

determinants of growth in many cross-country regression studies (Knack and

Keefer, 1995, 1997a, 1997b; Sala-i-Martin, 1997; Dawson, 1998; Durlauf and

Quah, 1999; Easterly and Levine, 2003; Rodrik, 2003; Rodrik et al., 2004).

While the presence of technological backwardness and income per capita

gaps creates the potential for catch-up and convergence, Abramovitz (1986)

has highlighted the importance of ‘social capability’ without which countries

will not be able to realize their potential. Social capability refers to the

various institutional arrangements which set the framework for the conduct

of productive economic activities and without which market economies cannot

function efficiently. Temple and Johnson (1998) suggest that indexes of

social development developed in the 1960s by Adelman and Morris (1967)

have ‘considerable predictive power’ (see also Temple, 1998). Temple and

Johnson (1998) show that these measures, after allowing for initial income,

are ‘very useful in predicting subsequent growth’ and ‘if observers in the

early 1960s had given more emphasis to these indexes of social capability,

they might have been rather more successful in predicting the fast growth of

East Asia, and underperformance of sub-Saharan Africa’.