How have economic historians understood the role of politics in shaping country differences in economic development? An impressive recent literature can be sorted out according to the degree of “human agency” at work. At the low-agency end are perspectives that stress geography, which is unalterable, leaving little room for human action and hence no room for politics. At the other end are arguments stressing deliberate, self-aware actions, hence choice, hence a substantial role for politics. In between are arguments where some choice occurred in the past or at a specific moment, but little since then. What drives development? Two lines of argument are vigorously debated: explanations that stress human capital and explanations that stress institutions. Within each camp can be found variance on the degree of agency and hence on the role of politics. Both vary as well on how they envisage society and its interaction with both institutions and human capital.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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