An evolutionary theory of economic change


An evolutionary theory of economic change

Richard R. Nelson and Sidney G. Winter

Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1982

  • : hard
  • : pbk

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Bibliography: p. [417]-430

Includes index



This book contains the most sustained and serious attack on mainstream, neoclassical economics in more than forty years. Richard R. Nelson and Sidney G. Winter focus their critique on the basic question of how firms and industries change overtime. They marshal significant objections to the fundamental neoclassical assumptions of profit maximization and market equilibrium, which they find ineffective in the analysis of technological innovation and the dynamics of competition among firms. To replace these assumptions, they borrow from biology the concept of natural selection to construct a precise and detailed evolutionary theory of business behavior. They grant that films are motivated by profit and engage in search for ways of improving profits, but they do not consider them to be profit maximizing. Likewise, they emphasize the tendency for the more profitable firms to drive the less profitable ones out of business, but they do not focus their analysis on hypothetical states of industry equilibrium. The results of their new paradigm and analytical framework are impressive. Not only have they been able to develop more coherent and powerful models of competitive firm dynamics under conditions of growth and technological change, but their approach is compatible with findings in psychology and other social sciences. Finally, their work has important implications for welfare economics and for government policy toward industry.


I. OVERVIEW AND MOTIVATION 1. Introduction 2. The Need for an Evolutionary Theory II. ORGANIZATION-THEORETIC FOUNDATIONS OF ECONOMIC EVOLUTIONARY THEORY 3. The Foundations of Contemporary Orthodoxy 4. Skills 5. Organizational Capabilities and Behavior III. TEXTBOOK ECONOMICS REVISITED 6. Static Selection Equilibrium 7. Firm and Industry Response to Changed Market Conditions IV. GROWTH THEORY 8. Neoclassical Growth Theory: A Critique 9. An Evolutionary Model of Economic Growth 10. Economic Growth as a Pure Selection Process 11. Further Analysis of Search and Selection V. SCHUMPETERIAN COMPETITION 12. Dynamic Competition and Technical Progress 13. Forces Generating and Limiting Concentration under Schumpeterian Competition 14. The Schumpeterian Tradeoff Revisited VI. ECONOMIC WELFARE AND POLICY 15. Normative Economics from an Evolutionary Perspective 16. The Evolution of Public Policies and the Role of Analysis VII. CONCLUSION 17. Retrospect and Prospect References Index

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