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Evolutionary Economic Thought

European Contributions and Concepts

Edited by Jürgen G. Backhaus

Evolutionary Economic Thought explores the theoretical roots of the evolutionary approach, and in so doing, demonstrates how it fits squarely into the theoretical mainstream. Focusing on the institutions of evolutionary change and the processes – such as competition – that generate change, this book takes account of important European contributions to the discipline, hitherto overshadowed by the American paradigm. As such, the book serves to broaden the current discourse. Whilst evolutionary economics itself is a well-researched and widely documented field, this book will be credited with establishing a history of evolutionary economic thought.
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Chapter 5: W. Sombart's system approach and evolutionary economics: a comparison

Helge Peukert


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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