The article tries to advance our understanding of institutional economics by critically examining the currently dominant discourse on institutions and economic development. First, I argue that the discourse suffers from a number of theoretical problems – its neglect of the causality running from development to institutions, its inability to see the impossibility of a free market, and its belief that the freest market and the strongest protection of private property rights are best for economic development. Second, I point out that the supposed evidence showing the superiority of ‘liberalized’ institutions relies too much on cross-section econometric studies, which suffer from defective concepts, flawed measurements and heterogeneous samples. Finally, I argue that the currently dominant discourse on institutions and development has a poor understanding of changes in institutions themselves, which often makes it take unduly optimistic or pessimistic positions about the feasibility of institutional reform.
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