July 21, 2015


Choosing your own capitalism in a globalised world? (Daron Acemoglu, James A Robinson, Thierry Verdier 21 November 2012, Vox EU)

The fact that technological progress requires incentives for workers and entrepreneurs results in greater inequality and greater poverty (and a weaker safety net) for a society encouraging more intense innovation. Crucially, however in a world with technological interdependence, when one (or a small subset) of societies is at the technological frontier and contributing disproportionately to its advancement, the incentives for others to do so will be weaker. In particular, innovation incentives by economies at the world technology frontier will create higher growth by advancing the frontier, while strong innovation incentives by followers will only increase their incomes today since the world technology frontier is already being advanced by the economies at the frontier.

This logic implies that the world equilibrium with endogenous technology transfer is typically asymmetric with some countries having greater incentives to innovate than others. In such equilibrium, the technologically leading countries opt for liberal-style institutions (what we call 'cut-throat' capitalism) with high-powered incentives, little social insurance and income inequality, while other following countries adopt coordinated-style institutions (what we call 'cuddly' capitalism) as a best response to the technology leader's advancement of the world technology frontier, ensuring therefore better insurance to their population and greater equality.

The main result of this theoretical investigation is that, in the long run, all countries tend to grow at the same rate, but those with cuddly reward structures are strictly poorer. Notably, however, these countries may have higher welfare than the cut-throat leader; in fact if the initial gap between the frontier economy and the followers is small enough, the cuddly followers will necessarily have higher welfare because of the greater social insurance that their institutions provide. Thus, our analysis confirms the intuition that all countries may want to be like the Nordics with a more extensive safety net and a more egalitarian structure.

Yet the main implication of our theoretical framework is that we cannot all be like the Nordics! Indeed it is not an equilibrium choice for the cut-throat leader, the US, to become cuddly. As a matter of fact, given the institutional choices of other countries, if the cut-throat leader were to switch to such cuddly capitalism, this would reduce the growth rate of the entire world economy, discouraging the adoption of the more egalitarian reward structure. In contrast, followers are still happy to choose an institutional system associated to a more egalitarian reward structure. Indeed, this choice, though making them poorer, does not permanently reduce their growth rates, thanks to the positive technological externalities created by the cut-throat technology leader. This line of reasoning suggests therefore that in an interconnected world, it may be precisely the more cut-throat American society, with its extant inequalities, that makes possible the existence of more cuddly Nordic societies.

Posted by at July 21, 2015 5:21 PM

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