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The Elgar Companion to Ronald H. Coase

The Elgar Companion to Ronald H. Coase

Edited by Claude Ménard and Elodie Bertrand

Ronald H. Coase was one of the most innovative and provocative economists of the twentieth century. Besides his best known papers on ‘The Nature of the Firm’ and ‘The Problem of Social Cost’, he had a major role in the development of the field of law and economics, and made numerous influential contributions to topics including public utilities, regulation and the functioning of markets. In this comprehensive Companion, 31 leading economists, social scientists and legal scholars assess the impact of his work with particular reference to the research programs initiated, the influence on policymakers, and the challenge to conventional perspectives.

Chapter 9: Coase on the nature and assessment of social institutions

Stephen Pratten

Subjects: economics and finance, history of economic thought, industrial organisation, institutional economics, law and economics, law - academic, law and economics


Does Coase develop a sustainable conception of social institutions and an adequate framework for assessing alternative institutional arrangements? He seems intent on making the institution a central category within economics. When considering the state of modern mainstream economics Coase sees its neglect of institutions as especially problematic. According to Coase, the methodological approach adopted by mainstream theory makes it incapable of satisfactorily addressing essential aspects of the phenomena it sets out to study. Persuading economists of the need to take institutions seriously is a central task Coase sets himself. Given the prominence he attaches to institutions it may reasonably have been anticipated that he would provide a detailed elaboration of this central category. Yet Coase does not elaborate on this category in a sustained fashion. This is a significant gap in his work. Without such elaboration it is difficult to assess the degree of continuity between his treatment of institutions and that offered by others or explain why mainstream contributions fail to adequately address institutional phenomena. Can a coherent, if largely implicit, account of the nature of social institutions nevertheless be discerned in his work? Coase, of course, has much to say about the firm, public corporation and market.

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