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Esser, J. Simonis Ed. Neue Politikstrukturen pp. Hall, P. The Political Economy of Adjustment in Germany.


An Introduction to Varieties of Capitalism. Soskice Eds. The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage New York: Oxford University Press. Deutsche und amerikanische Institutionen und Innovationsstrategien im Globalisierungszeitalter. Lang, M. Herr, H. Der Merkantilismus der Bundesrepublik in der Weltwirtschaft. Voy, W. Thomasberger Eds. Marburg: Metropolis Verlag. Hochberg Eds. Houndsmills et al. Kern, H. Das deutsche Produktionsmodell am Scheideweg. Kitschelt, H. Continuity and Change in Contemporary Capitalism.

Convergence and Divergence in Advanced Capitalist Democracies. Kitschelt, P. Lange, G. Stephens Eds. Kogut, B. Marglin, S. The Golden Age of Capitalism. Ohmae, K. The Borderless World. New York: HarperCollins. Ostner, I. Quadraturen im Wohlfahrtsdreieck. Ostner Eds. Der Sozialstaat in vergleichender Perspektive pp. From Miracle to Crisis? Houndmills et al. Schmitt, J. Madrick Ed. Alternative Perspectives on the New Economy pp. Globalisation, unification, and the German welfare state.

International Social Science Journal, , Simonis, G. Soskice, D. Divergent Production Regimes. Coordinated and Uncoordinated Market Economies in the s. Story, J. Underhill Eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Streeck, W. Deutscher Kapitalismus: Gibt es ihn? Streeck Ed. Upchurch, M. The Crisis of Labour Relations in Germany. Vitols, S. Voy, K. Weber, H. Zwischen asiatischem und anglo-amerikanischem Kapitalismus — das deutsche industrielle System in der Klemme. Voelzkow Eds. Weiss, L. The myth of the powerless state. Governing the Economy in a Global Era. Cambridge: Polity Press. Some Theoretical Observations 1.

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Will we have to be modest and restrict ourselves to describing this process or can it be theorized? How does institutional transfer happen and will it work? In transformation discourse, the empirical observation that key political and economic institutions can evolve differently among countries and that these differences are related to the institutional traditions of the respective country has made the term path dependency increasingly attractive from an analytical point of view.

In its purist form, the path dependency thesis implies that a domestic institutional transformation is affected at most slightly by the perception of foreign institutions, and that learning — especially the attempt to implement what has been learned — can take place only in the framework of existing institutions.

In this chapter1 I will aim to show that this question cannot be decided on the basis of currently prevailing theories, particularly 15 S. I will instead outline an explanatory model that enriches the key insights of New Institutional Economics which can also be traced back to other theories with the dimensions of discursive strategy and power. The inclusion of these dimensions raises the question of what enables societal actors to convince other relevant actors of the advantages of a foreign model and to initiate the imitation of this model.

To avoid misinterpretations, this paper will not take on the entire spectrum of transnational learning, which besides institutions encompasses mainly ideas and individual political measures. Rather, the focal point lies in discussions on the adoption of foreign institutions. In the long term, only the most efficient production techniques can hold their own on the world market. This line of argumentation has also been applied to the development of economic policy institutions, such as private ownership of the means of production. Today, advocates of this position with a Neoclassical or managerial mind-set the New Institutional Economics theory has meanwhile dedicated itself to the issue of persistently inefficient institutions; see below find that, in light of international competition, it is practically an imperative for an individual country not only to facilitate the adoption of the most productive techniques but also to orientate its own economic policy institutions on the most efficient model internationally Siebert, ; Ohmae, ; Womack et al.

A similar line of argumentation can be found in other theories, for example, in modernization theory Zapf, and in Marxism Brenner, The paucity of empirical evidence does not necessarily disprove the theory. Only in the last few years have these processes made any real headway. Indeed, many observers believe that the process of convergence has recently accelerated. There is much to substantiate a dependency of the scope and speed of convergence on the degree of market growth.

Yet this insight weakens the postulate of a world market-induced convergence of economic policy institutions. The Public Choice approach, in line with this tradition of economic theory, sees competition for political office as the definitive transmission belts. Udehn, , p. The convergence thesis thus lacks the crucial political transmission belt to explain convergence. In light of this empirical phenomenon, the Neoclassical theory reveals its failings by focusing on price as the decisive factor in market success.

Market success cannot be reduced to the ability to offer goods at low prices Porter, There are many other contributing factors, such as reliability, which leave ample maneuvering room for corporate strategies. The theory, based on an ideal of equilibrium, is moreover little suited to explain innovations. On the one hand, there would be no competitive edge to serve as an incentive to innovation. On the other, the combinations of factors that breed promising innovations would be severely restricted due to the homogeneity of practices. An innovative climate demands that a few firms stand apart from their competitors, with the result that they either will fail sooner or later on the market or will be unexpectedly successful cf.

Just as specialization emerges in traded goods, so too do individual nations undergo a specialization in institutional structure, because the product strategy pursued in each instance requires its own institutional setting. Hence German companies focus on incremental innovation because the German labor law and financial system, among other factors, guarantee the necessary long-term planning horizon. By the same token, American companies use the institutional conditions in the U.

Even where convergence is manifest, the impetus is not perforce the competition mechanism. Uniformity can spring from generalizations in interpretative patterns and from similarities in micropolitical strategy effects Ortmann, , p. In the case of management practices, a series of factors could explain alignment tendencies; for example, intercompany management discourse at the level of trade shows, trade journals, and management consultancy agencies cf.

In other words, the thesis of competition-based convergence must stand up to alternative explanations. The history of technology teaches us that suboptimal technologies can thrive for a relatively long time if they enjoy a head start. The typewriter keyboard is a notable example Ortmann, , pp. For a theory based on a rationally calculating, benefitmaximizing individual, one may well ask how rationally made decisions can engender something so suboptimal.

The answer lies in positive network externalities of technologies. In such a case, the circumstances surrounding the first successful applications are of major significance.

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Path dependency is strengthened by, first, high start-up investments that lead to falling per-unit costs with increasing output; second, learning effects in technology application; and third, positive coordination and compatibility effects that proceed from the development of compatible technologies and standards Arthur, From the New Institutional Economics perspective, similar mechanisms come into play at institutions as well. Institutions have high start-up costs, learning effects for organizations hat emerge during institutional setup, and coordination effects in the course of the mutual adaptation of formal and informal rules Leipold, , p.

The path, once chosen, does not lead to a destination because every decisionmaking situation has alternatives; the number of alternatives is however limited by the path. Therefore, it can be fully rational to hold on to a suboptimal institution. Actors break away from the path only when efficiency losses are greater than the costs for creating a new, more efficient institution North, ; Weinert, , p.

In transformation research, this microeconomic reasoning has been rarely employed for a theoretical foundation of path dependency exceptions: Murrell, , ; Poznanski, Rather, they see the concept as an institutional resource for actors to combine and implement in different ways see also Nielsen et al. In addition, Lehmbruch underscores transmitted interpretations of situations , p. This distancing from New Institutional Economics is in my opinion justified, but not for the reason proposed by Helmut Leipold. For him, an understanding of path dependency informed by technology evolution makes little sense, because in contrast to technologies, institutions are characterized by stagnating or even decreasing profits Leipold, , p.

For Paul Pierson, the opposite is true. Considerably more problematic is the New Institutional Economics assumption of objective efficiency criteria. If efficiency cannot be determined objectively for technology, as David Noble has so convincingly argued cf. Esser et al. Efficiency ratings are driven by interests and are context dependent. One must remember, as even path dependency advocate Paul Pierson has stressed , pp. Google Search Show

And some sequences of events can be identified that have unintended backlashes. While in the former setting the further path is not inexorably fixed, in the latter one the path comes to an end. Accordingly, an observable path does not automatically continue into the future. Unsurprisingly, empirical evidence is also ambiguous for the noneconomic version of the path dependency concept.

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They drew the conclusion that the first free elections had a decisive impact on the future privatization policy, but that contrary to the path dependency thesis, subsequent changes in political power relations influenced the further course of privatization. This criticism indicates a central deficiency in the path dependency concept for societal institutions; namely, the problem of its operationalization.

There are manifold ideas about what the relevant time frame and key events are that determine a given path. Generally speaking, in social evolution, every initial condition has a history. For this reason, the path dependency concept is faced with the problem of infinite regression. Yet problems of operationalization plague not only the diachronic but also the synchronic perspective.

How can path-critical institutions be isolated from the multitude of institutions in modern complex societies? Key factors include the following: Party apparatus institutions, cultural heritage, and informal relationships complementary to planned economy cf. Bohle, Moreover, external factors can also be seen as path dependency elements; for example, the magnitude of accumulated foreign debt under state socialism Bohle, , p. It should however be clear that these concepts alone can only partly explain the processes of institutional transfer.

Several articles have been published in the meantime that deal explicitly with the transnational diffusion of political concepts and institutions. They provide important insights into the structural prerequisites for transfer. Accordingly, political measures diffuse easier than political institutions, and the speed of transfer is accelerated by the existence of international networks and epistemic communities. These empirical works also raise the problem of proving transfer, because not just transfers alone but also endogenous processes can result in similar-looking political measures or institutions see overview by Stone, Kern, Conversely, studies on the diffusion of concepts in the social policy field, which have experienced cuts in many countries over the last decades, highlight far more frequently the power aspects of implementation strategies for these innovations e.

Neoinstitutional works highlight this latter aspect Kitschelt et al. For a theoretical definition of both structural and actor-oriented instances of institutional transfer, I find the discourse theory developed by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe most helpful Scherrer, Their understanding of discourse is not limited — as most generally are — to spoken or written text, but is distinguished by an epistemological position.

Lillrank, Accordingly, Laclau and Mouffe reject the idea that societal reality could be reduced to an inevitable part of an immanent law. Nevertheless, they do not rule out the existence of structures. Yet structures never achieve a completeness wherein all elements are defined, but rather are vulnerable to constant interruptions and shifts. Subjects, like structures, never attain a closed identity because this comes about only in relation to other identities. What results is the reciprocal subversion of subject and structure. The subject is the product of a shift in a structure, that is the impossibility of a structure to constitute itself fully.

The structure results conversely from the impossibility of a subject to continually regenerate everything that is discursive i. The discourse-analytical assumption of mutual subversion of structure and subject offers a plausible approach to the analysis of institutional transfer. On the one hand, it gives access to how theorists of path dependency, such as David Stark, grasp the significance of institutions for individual and collective action.

At the same time, this discourse-analytical assumption allows an actor-oriented approach. These subjects can recreate meanings in the imaginary realm i. Their existential conditions would first have to be undermined. The absence of a center does not rule out the existence of centers, of hierarchies among the structures. Centers of societal practices can namely exist only as long as a structure is not completely closed.

In the case of closure, each element of the structure would possess only a relational identity with all other elements Laclau, , p. The extent of this influence rests first on the type of relation they have with the other practices and second on how far they themselves are enshrined in society. Generally, the societal availability of practices is contingent on several factors, including, 1 how expansive they are and how long they have endured, 2 how self-evident they have become, 3 how negative the probable consequences of their change are estimated to be, 4 which sanctions will be imposed if attempts at change are made, 5 whether actors are ready to defend these practices if the previous mechanisms for maintaining them fall short, 6 what resources they can mobilize in comparison with actors urging change; and how they use these resources.

As applied to the question of institutional transfer, these considerations entail searching for a — temporarily — fixed institutions including their structural elements that either enable or restrict such a transfer, and b — to a limited extent — open situations where actors struggle for renewed closures and in so doing become involved in interpretational conflicts. Second, one must analyze which institutions generate institutional legacies, which in turn are also discursively recognized.

In both cases, one would need to check how much the competition or the capacity to persist is also discursively grasped and to what extent an attempt is made to modify the institutions that cause these structural effects. The discursive strategies of institutional transfer do not however take place in a structure- and power-free realm. One must take into account, first, the power relations among the discourse participants and, second, the aforementioned structural conditions of concrete institutional transfer. In other words, former power positions influence the options for the discursive power of interpretation in relation to a foreign model.

Research on modernization and democratization of nations Merkel, , pp. In the process of reaching understanding amid divergent interests, actors such as policy experts, who otherwise enjoy only limited powers, can play a larger role. Moreover, it stands to reason that, if there is a discrepancy between promised and actual productivity of an institution, weaker actors will assume more power. Logically enough, the media will play a key role in disseminating proposals for institutional transfer, with their actors very likely pursuing their own interests in the process.

The weaker country is usually more willing to learn from the stronger one than vice versa. These resources might include its power within international organizations, which might be based on geostrategic motives e. Yet power alone is not enough. A highhanded use of power can breed resentment and resistance. Competition as Structure and Discourse Object A proposal for institutional transfer is more persuasive if it is portrayed as a necessary measure for surviving a threatening competitive situation.

In contrast to this thesis, however, success of transfer seems to depend less on whether competition really exists and more on how much a crisis is seen as the outcome of a competitive situation.

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If competition is not recognized as such, then it cannot be held up as a basis for institutional change. Naturally, an actual but unrecognized competition mechanism can still have an impact; for example, it can lead to military defeat, to bankruptcy, or to high unemployment. But whether the defeat is retrospectively associated with the competition mechanism is an open question. Interpreting a crisis as the outcome of a competitive situation will seem more plausible if supported by everyday experience: At one extreme, by war; or in times of peaceful economic competition, by experiences in the consumer world and at the workplace.

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Later, when steel industrialists concluded that it was not possible to catch up with the new competition and made cuts in the investment budget accordingly, unions successfully advocated protectionist policies, using them to obtain wage increases that were out of proportion to productivity gains Scherrer, , pp. The institutions of private ownership, trade, the GATT, and price-sensitive purchasing decisions pitted steel producers against each other in international competition. Although competition could not be fully offset in this manner i.

Institutional Compatibility Foreign practices are more likely to be adopted if they are compatible with existent values and institutional arrangements. This is the most common argument in the literature for the dissemination of ideas and policies and is most akin to the path dependency argument.


Changing procedural knowledge is difficult and can only be achieved with the passage of time, because such knowledge is implicit. People learn rules without conscious knowledge of them, and these rules are stored as procedural memory. Procedural knowledge is also rooted in identities that are given by the existent categories defined by the societal division of labor Kogut, , p. Finally, David Strang and John W. The more familiar the model institutions are, the less affected the power relations between the societal actors will be and hence the lower the resistance.

If many of the existing institutions need to be changed, then the inadequately fulfilled interaction requirements with other institutions during the implementation process will increase the risk that the initial innovations will fall short of the anticipated efficiency gains or other advantages. This disappointment can cast doubt on the further implementation see above. Institutional restraints on adopting foreign practices will be illustrated by an example from Germany.

The introduction of American production methods was barred by the German industry cartel, which enabled small producers to stay in business Berghahn, , p. The adoption of Taylorist concepts, many of which were indigenous to Germany, was nevertheless impeded by a societal order with institutionalized skill identities the Meister, the Facharbeiter upheld by political actors Kogut, , p.

In , the boards of directors of several German firms supported decentralized wage bargaining in line with the American model. Apart from the strength of the unions, many large industrial employers were ambivalent about this demand. Institutional or mentality restraints, however, can be overcome with the passage of time. Either the institutional setting adapts to the new practices, or these new practices are adapted to the old institutions. The younger generation embraced American methods more readily, first and foremost because they apparently worked see above.

Even if foreign practices are adopted, the copy is not identical with the original. For example, when Taylorism was finally introduced in Germany, it did not lead to a deskilling or to the imposition of crude incentives to the extent seen elsewhere, because the belief in sustaining the role of the skilled laborer in the production process was retained Kogut, , p.

Besides the problem of adopting all supporting institutions of a foreign practice simultaneously, a principle obstacle is that a prototype is not a fixed template. There usually is ample space for disagreement about the central features of the model to be copied. For instance, many firms claim to have installed Japanese production methods. The thesis by which, under penalty of ruin, the most efficient practice has to be adopted stands both empirically and theoretically on thin ice.

Empirically, no clear trend toward convergence is discernible, price alone is not the decisive factor in competition and identical prices could conceal very different combinations of input factors or institutional settings , and many economic activities are not subject to direct competition. There is likewise no clear-cut empirical evidence for the path dependency thesis, which sees the legacy of existing institutions to be a restraining factor in the possibilities for institutional transfer. In addition, the thesis can be difficult to operationalize.

There are myriad contrasting ideas about the relevant time span and the major events that shape the respective path. To determine their concrete shape, I have chosen a discourse-analytical approach that, without having to deny the power of competition and institutional legacy, increases awareness of the political conflicts surrounding institutional transfer. A good starting point for a prognosis, based on the deliberations above, would be the relative power relations between advocates and opponents of institutional transfer.

These relations, defined by the availability of economic, political, and media resources, represent just one approach, however. The proposal to copy a foreign model can achieve a much greater response if it is packaged as a solution to a problem deemed pressing by the majority of people. The work of persuasion can be facilitated by the following factors: Prevailing consciousness of strong competitive pressure; extensive compatibility of the envisaged policies and institutions with existent values and institutional structures; a powerful and interested model country or international organizations; and a model that lives up to the expectations of its proponents.

Among the Public Choice authors, Mancur Olson has dealt the most with competition between individual polities. This viewpoint implies however that the institutional transformation does not strictly orientate itself on the best model but can be influenced by other factors. Increasing Returns and Path Dependence in the Economy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Bartlett, C. Managing across Borders: The Transnational Solution. Berghahn, V. The Americanization of West German Industry, — Biermann, F.

Institutionelles Lernen in der Weltumweltpolitik pp. Bikhchandani, S. Journal of Political Economy, 5 , Blomert, R. Neue Rundschau, 1, Bohle, D. Discussion Paper FS I. Boyer, R. Yokokawa Eds. Aldershot: Edward Elgar. Brenner, R. Turbulence in the World Economy. London: Verso. Cattero, B.

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