Bronze in the 2021 Axiom Business Book Awards in the Economics category
This book examines how a society that is trapped in stagnation might initiate and sustain economic and political development. In this context, progress requires the reform of existing arrangements, along with the complementary evolution of informal institutions. It involves enhancing state capacity, balancing broad avenues for political input, and limiting concentrated private and public power. This juggling act can only be accomplished by resolving collective-action problems (CAPs), which arise when individuals pursue interests that generate undesirable outcomes for society at large. Merging and extending key perspectives on CAPs, inequality, and development, this book constructs a flexible framework to investigate these complex issues. By probing four basic hypotheses related to knowledge production, distribution, power, and innovation, William D. Ferguson offers an analytical foundation for comparing and evaluating approaches to development policy. Navigating the theoretical terrain that lies between simplistic hierarchies of causality and idiosyncratic case studies, this book promises an analytical lens for examining the interactions between inequality and development. Scholars and researchers across economic development and political economy will find it to be a highly useful guide.
About the author
William D. Ferguson is the Gertrude B. Austin Professor of Economics at Grinnell College. He is the author of Collective Action and Exchange: A Game Theoretic Approach to Contemporary Political Economy (Stanford, 2013).
"Development failure is, at its root, a failure of collective action. This excellent book applies the tools of game theory to shed systematic light on circumstances that promote or hinder social coordination. One of its great strengths is the development of a broad typology of institutional settlements, permitting contextual analysis."
—Dani Rodrik, Harvard University
"Collective action is an age-old human concern. In today's world, which is an amalgam of globalization and fractiousness never seen before, it has acquired a new urgency. There is an awareness that not just development but human survival depends on society's capacity to solve its collective action problems. William Ferguson's superb new book draws on game theory, economics, and political science to present a state-of-the-art commentary on this important subject. This is a book that will be widely read by students, I am sure, and by policy makers, I hope."
—Kaushik Basu, Cornell University
"Economic prosperity is always and everywhere a product of human cooperation. This accessible and fascinating book provides a treasure trove of insights into how cooperation succeeds or fails to bootstrap its way to the stable, effective institutions that are required for growth and development."
—Eric Beinhocker, Executive Director, Institute for New Economic Thinking, University of Oxford
"Why do some countries see increases in standards of living and human development while others stagnate? Drawing from game theory, history, psychology and political economy, William Ferguson theorises that the roots of economic and social progress lies in how societies resolve collective action problems. The theoretical arguments are backed by carefully constructed country case-studies. In this important book, Ferguson provides an original and compelling answer to perhaps the important question in development economics."
—Kunal Sen, Director, UNU-WIDER and Professor of Development Economics, University of Manchester
"Cutting-edge scholarship on the political economy of development has accepted the need to go beyond the mantra of 'institutions matter' and to take power and politics much more seriously. Bill Ferguson's new book offers the most coherent and rigorous statement of how this can be done and sets a new standard for the field. It is a tour de force."
—Samuel Hickey, Professor of Politics and Development, The University of Manchester
"For anyone even half persuaded of the importance of collective-action problems in development, this book is an Aladdin's cave of lucid analysis and useful insight....[This] is the nearest thing we are likely to get to a synthesis of the state-of-the art in the political economy of development."
—David Booth, Journal of Development Studies
"[An] encyclopedic synthesis of cutting edge literature at the intersection of development economics, new institutional economics and political science. It is a synthesis which transcends the synthesis genre. It is systematic, careful in its definitions, rigorously argued....I expect that, for years to come, his book will have a prominent place on my bookshelf, both as guide and as a source of inspiration."
—Brian Levy, Working with the Grain Blog