Thursday, March 13, 2014

Non-Neoclassical Institutionalism: A List of Economists

Old Institutionalism was an economic school that emerged mainly in America from the German Historical School. An interesting link between the two schools was Adolph Lowe (1893–1995) – a member of the German Historical School – who taught in America and influenced some Old American institutionalists.

While there were some American institutionalists who were influenced by neoclassical economics (such as John R. Commons, Wesley Clair Mitchell and John Maurice Clark), nevertheless the essence of the school was a rejection of fundamental neoclassical principles.

One must also carefully distinguish the New Institutionalist economics (say, of Ronald Coase and Douglass North) from the Old American Institutionalist tradition, because the New Institutionalism is really just a variant of modern neoclassical theory.

In Europe, K. William Kapp (1910–1976), Gunnar Myrdal (1898–1987), and Karl Polanyi (1886–1964) had close links with Old Institutionalism, and Moses Finley (1912–1986), who was a very influential economist of the ancient Greek and Roman world, came out of the Old Institutionalist tradition too.

There was also a subtle blending of some Old American Institutionalists with Post Keynesian economics; indeed, the great economist John Kenneth Galbraith (1908–2006) could really be understood as both a Post Keynesian and Old Institutionalist.

An interesting question is: who are the modern non-neoclassical institutionalists? Geoffrey Hodgson is probably the most well known one, but there are many others. This interesting interview here with Anne Mayhew provides both a potted history of modern non-neoclassical institutionalism, and lists a number of modern economists in this tradition.

I have assembled a list below of both Old and new non-neoclassical institutionalists, but is far from incomplete, and I may well have made some errors.

Modern Non-Neoclassical Institutionalists
James Kenneth Galbraith (1952– )
Geoffrey Hodgson (1946– )
Malcolm B. Rutherford
John Harvey
Deborah M. Figart
Ellen Mutari
Bill Waller
Janet T. Knoedler
Bob Prasch
Deborah M. Figart
Robert Frank
John Adams
Wendell C. Gordon
Anne Mayhew (1936– )
Robert Heilbroner (1919–2005)
Warren J. Samuels
Allan Schmid
Mark R. Tool
Rick Tilman

Old European Institutionalists
K. William Kapp (1910–1976)
Gunnar Myrdal (1898–1987)
Karl Polanyi (1886–1964)

Old American Institutionalist School
Old Institutionalists
John Kenneth Galbraith (1908–2006)
Dudley Dillard (1913–1991)
Allan Gruchy (1906–1990)
Arthur R. Burns (1895–1981)
Gardiner C. Means (1896–1988)
Clarence E. Ayres (1890–1972)
John R. Commons (1862–1945)
Allyn A. Young (1876–1929)
Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929)

Neoclassical Wing
John R. Commons (1862–1945)
Wesley Clair Mitchell (1874–1948)
John Maurice Clark (1884–1963)
Paul H. Douglas (1892–1976)
Arthur F. Burns (1904–1987)

Business Cycle Institutionalists
Wesley Clair Mitchell (1874–1948)
Leonard P. Ayres (1891–1972)
Arthur F. Burns (1904–1987)
Frederick C. Mills (1892–1964)
Solomon Fabricant (1906–1989)
Simon Kuznets (1901–1985)

Early American Institutionalists and Associates
Adolf A. Berle (1895–1971)
William Trufant Foster (1879–1950)
Waddill Catchings (1879–1969)
Edwin R. A. Seligman (1861–1939)
Richard T. Ely (1854–1943)
Simon Nelson Patten (1852–1922)
Henry Carter Adams (1851–1921)

Further Reading
“Hodgson on the Essence of Old Institutional Economics,” April 4, 2013.

Hodgson, Geoffrey M. 2003. “Postwar Heterodox Economics: Institutional Economics,” in Warren J. Samuels, (ed.), A Companion to the History of Economic Thought. Blackwell, Malden, MA. 462–470.


  1. I like the post, but there is one characterization with which I disagree. In my view, Adolph Lowe was NOT a member from the German Historical School. I have a deep respect for that school, but Lowe did not belong to it, in my view. It may well be said that Lowe funded his own school, in the Kiel Institute of World Economics. That institute was probably the most advance place for research in economics, since it included not only BRILLIANT German economists like Fritz Burchardt, Hans Neisser and Gerhard Colm, but also Russian emigrants like Jacob Marschak and Leontief. Some people even claim that Leontief "stole" the input-output matrix from the work done at the Kiel Institute. And it is mainly on that work, that I base my claim of Lowe not being part of the Historical School. Undoubtedly, he had connections. The main member of the Historical School at that time was Spiethoff, but his methodology was entirely different from Lowe, much more eager to mathematical modelization than Spiethoff and the Historical School. I'm not criticizing any of them, but it is a clear and important difference. Lowe was a great economist, and his research was at the cutting edge of his time.

  2. Why limit yourself to economists? Institutionalist thought is well developed in political science and sociology.