European Contributions and Concepts
New Horizons in Institutional and Evolutionary Economics series
Edited by Jürgen G. Backhaus
Chapter 5: W. Sombart's system approach and evolutionary economics: a comparison
5. W. Sombart’s system approach and evolutionary economics: a comparison Helge Peukert INTRODUCTION1 The conception of capitalism as a historical formation with distinctive political and cultural as well as economic properties derives from the work of those relatively few economists interested in capitalism as a ‘stage’ of social evolution. In addition to the seminal work of Marx and the literature that his work has inspired, the conception draws on the writings of Smith, Mill, Veblen, Schumpeter and a number of sociologists and historians, notably among them, Weber and Braudel. The majority of present day economists do not use so broad a canvas, concentrating on capitalism as a market system, with the consequence of emphasizing its functional rather than its institutional or constitutive aspects. (Heilbroner 1988, p. 350b). In his magnum opus, Der moderne Kapitalismus, Sombart (1863–1941) also tries to analyse (the development of) capitalism as a historical phenomenon with distinctive political, cultural and economic properties. The third volume of his work was completed in 1927 and is often considered as the most comprehensive synthesis of the research of the historical school. As the last major representative of the youngest historical school he stood in the tradition of ‘theoretical historicism . . ., a synthesis between historical empiricism and theoretical economics . . . Sombart’s principal interest was in the great tendencies of capitalist evolution, including the evolution of its institutions in time’ (Chaloupek 1999, pp. 467 and 470). In the last decades evolutionary economics (henceforth EE, also for evolutionary economists) developed as a distinct research...
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