Welcome to my home page.
Below are links to a brief bio-sketch and to a partial C.V. Following
that you will find links to a few of my recent papers.
My research concerns the
institutional foundations of an economy. Economic institutions constitute
the legal architecture of markets and of market processes. All economies
are constituted by their legal structures that give content to market processes
and existing property regimes. I am interested in the existing
institutional arrangements in an economy, and I am interested in the process of
institutional change. My current research has two dominant themes--one of
them philosophical and one of them empirical.
The philosophical aspect, in which
I develop the concept of volitional pragmatism, is spelled out in my 2006
book: SUFFICIENT REASON: Volitional Pragmatism and the Meaning of
Economic Institutions (Princeton University Press, 2006). The Amazon link
is: SUFFICIENT REASON . There
is a Chinese version available from Shanghai People's Publishing House, No. 193
Fujian Zhong Rd., Shanghai 200001, China.
pragmatism offers a new approach to human action--one that challenges standard
rational choice models central to economics. In volitional pragmatism
individuals "work out" what they want in the way of choice and action
as they come to understand the choices available to them. Volitional
pragmatism builds on the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Friedrich Nietzsche,
Charles Sanders Peirce, John Dewey, John R. Commons, Thorstein
Veblen, and Richard Rorty. Because
institutional change re-constitutes the legal architecture of an economy, the
meaning of economic institutions can only be understood as a collective
assertion about what purposes are to be served by that legal architecture. In other words, whose interests count, and
how do individuals arrive at collective decisions in parliaments to answer the
age-old question: “what is the better thing to do right now to solve
this particular problem?” Utility
maximization is not a reason for choice and action. Individuals find
their reasons when confronted with the necessity of choice.
The empirical aspect of my
current research concerns the on-going problem of immiserization in much of
Africa and the Middle East. Political unrest from Pakistan right across North
Africa adds to the urgency of reconsidering the concepts and practice of
development assistance. My latest book
(with Glen D. Anderson) is entitled VULNERABLE
PEOPLE, VULNERABLE STATES: Redefining the Development Challenge (Routledge,
The history of development
assistance is a long list of initiatives that go in and out of fashion—import
substitution, infant-industries, appropriate technology, structural adjustment,
micro-finance, sustainable development, the Washington Consensus, eliminating
corruption, fighting poverty, and now the Millennium Development Goals.
Throughout this period of serial thematic fixes, the expectation has always
been that the remaining poor countries would achieve “economic growth and
development” and thus the persistent divisions of rich and poor, industrial and
agrarian, would eventually disappear. Economic convergence would
eliminate long-standing disparities in social and economic conditions. Despite
the very best efforts, and billions of dollars of foreign assistance, over 50
years of concerted development assistance has failed to produce economic
The quest for convergence
has not solved poverty, nor has fighting poverty brought about convergence.
Neither has the standard
development approach, enhancing economic growth, produced economic coherence.
The urgent development priority is not to fight poverty, nor is it to induce
economic growth. Both of those
outcomes—poverty, the absence of growth—are mere symptoms of economies that
fail to function as they must if vulnerable people and vulnerable states are to
be rescued from their malaise.
We argue that the
traditional emphasis on economic convergence must now be replaced by an
emphasis on creating economic coherence. This new focus on economic
coherence underwrites a programmatic commitment to the manifold fragilities of
vulnerable people and vulnerable states.
A focus on vulnerability
starts from the premise that the underlying causal structures and processes of
the economies of Africa and much of the Middle East are not coherent.
Families and nations are vulnerable precisely because the economy is not
responsive and adaptive. In many settings, post-colonial governments have
continued the extraction of economic surplus, with the only difference being
that the economic rents now accrue to indigenous leaders and their ravenous
coterie rather than to the colonial economies of Europe. The ironic expression of this problem is
“Same car, different driver.”
We suggest that many
political problems can be better understood, and more easily meliorated, if the
focus of development assistance is shifted away from stimulating GDP growth and
Development assistance must
now be refocused on the vexing problems and challenges facing vulnerable people
and vulnerable states. These problems can only be rectified by programs that
enhance economic coherence.
"Soon enough, I discovered an interesting fact:
if a writer doesn't put in hours at the keyboard every day, no writing gets
done." Eloisa James
RECENT PAPERS AND
(click on the button at left
for a pdf version)
Climate, Carbon, Civil War, and Flexible
Boundaries: Sudan’s Contested Landscape (Land Use Policy 28:907-16,
2011) (with Charles Chavunduka).
Sustainability Under Siege: Transport Costs
and Corruption on West Africa’s Trade Corridors (Natural Resources Forum
35:32-48, 2011) (with Jeremy Foltz).
the Crisis in Zimbabwe: Sorting Out the Land Question (Development Southern
Africa September 2007) (with Charles Chavunduka).
Abdicating Responsibility: The Deceits of Fisheries Policy (Fisheries
The Crisis in Ocean Governance: Conceptual Confusion, Spurious Economics, Political Indifference (MAST: Maritime Studies,
On the Origins and Evolving Role of Money (Journal of
Institutional and Theoretical Economics, 164:624-51, 2008, with Jean-Paul Chavas).
Volitional Pragmatism (Ecological Economics,
Market Failure: Volitional Pragmatism as a New Theory of Public Policy (Economia Politica,
on South Africa's failed land reform program (Business Day, August 7,
Degradation in the African Commons: Accounting for Institutional Decay (Environment
and Development Economics, 13:539-63, 2008).
Regulations and the Problem of Sustainability: Moving Beyond "Market
Failure" (Ecological Economics, 63:676-83, 2007).
Property Relations in the Developing World: The Wrong Prescription for the
Wrong Malady (Land Use Policy, 26:20-27, 2008).
China’s Economic Transformation: Are There Lessons Here for the Developing
World? (World Economics, 7(2):73-95, 2006).
Modeling Population and Resource Scarcity in 14th Century England, (Journal
of Agr. Economics 56(2):217-37, 2005), (with
Environmental Policy: Prescriptive Consequentialism and Volitional Pragmatism,
(Environmental and Resource Economics, 28(1):73-99, May 2004).
Rights: Locke, Kant, Peirce and the Logic of Volitional Pragmatism (in: Private
Property in the 21st Century, ed. by Harvey M. Jacobs, Cheltenham, U.K.:
Elgar, 2004, chapter 2).