Much has been said about the vices and virtues of democracy. Democracy, said Benjamin Franklin, is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Lord Acton warned that democracy is susceptible to a ‘tyranny of the majority’. Winston Churchill told us that democracy is actually the worst form of government . . . except for every other form that has been tried. Not without irony, he also said that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. H. L. Mencken described democracy as the theory that people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. These quotes speak to the majoritarian dimension of democracy and the reality that even in the best-of-functioning systems 49 per cent of the people can remain unhappy. To be sure, in most modern democracies even a less-than-majority popular vote can carry an election, due to the peculiarities of electoral systems.5 Democracy, in other words, is a system to ensure that some people get what they want; it is not a system to allow everyone to do so.
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Claude Ménard and Mary M. Shirley
When New Institutional Economics (NIE) first appeared on the scholarly scene in the early 1970s, it was a transformative movement. NIE aimed to radically alter orthodox economics by showing that institutions are multidimensional and matter in significant ways that can be statistically measured and systematically modeled. In the decades since, thousands of articles and books have pursued this premise and NIE has evolved from an upstart movement to a major influence on researchers in economics, political science, law, management, and sociology. What made New Institutional Economics a radical idea was that it abandoned: [. . .]the standard neoclassical assumptions that individuals have perfect information and unbounded rationality and that transactions are costless and instantaneous. NIE assumes instead that individuals have incomplete information and limited mental capacity and because of this they face uncertainty about unforeseen events and outcomes and incur transaction costs to acquire information. To reduce risk and transaction costs humans create institutions, writing and enforcing constitutions, laws, contracts and regulations – so-called formal institutions – and structuring and inculcating norms of conduct, beliefs and habits of thought and behavior – or informal institutions. (Menard and Shirley, 2005, p. 1)
Georg Krücken, Renate E. Meyer and Peter Walgenbach
In the introduction to the volume, Georg Krücken, Renate Meyer and Peter Walgenbach sketch the origins and the development of the European network of scholars interested in new institutionalism. Further, they provide an overview of the content of the volume at hand.