Douglas Allen, Burnaby Mountain Professor of Economics

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Douglas Allen wins award for The Institutional Revolution

September 02, 2014
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Professor Douglas Allen, Burnaby Mountain Professor of Economics, has been awarded a Douglass C. North Research Award by the International Society of New Institutional Economics (ISNIE).

The award, established this year, recognizes the best paper or book published on the topic of institutional economics during the previous two years.

Allen is among the first award winners, for his book, The Institutional Revolution: Measurement and the Economic Emergence of the Modern World. The book provides a fascinating explanation for the prevalence of such inexplicable pre-modern English institutions as dueling, aristocracy, venality, and patronage; and also explains why they began to disappear in the 19th century.

From drawing and quartering as a judicial punishment to purchasing military commissions, Allen provides examples of how the rules governing pre-modern society grew out of the era’s inability to measure such fundamental concepts as time, distance, weight and effort.

“It’s an accessible book that explains why the world of Samuel Pepys, John Churchill and Jane Austen was so different from our own and why it all changed during the 19th century," says Allen.

“It all comes down to the problem of trust. In the pre-modern era simple measurement of the most basic things was often either impossible or meaningless, and as a result, societies had to develop institutions that could substitute for direct measurement.  With the Industrial Revolution, the ability to measure time, distance, weight, and other basic things allowed for our modern institutions. For example, it is difficult to pay someone by the hour, if you cannot accurately measure an hour.”

Allen says he has always researched and taught subjects that he enjoys.

“About 20 years ago I started writing papers on British institutions almost as a hobby. The book was the culmination of that effort, and the prize and attention it has received amount to icing on the cake. I’m very fortunate to have the job I have.”

Allen has published extensively in the fields of institutional economics, law and economics, and microeconomics theory. His keen interest in the world around him has led to the examination of such institutions as marriage, divorce, the military, the ancient Olympics, gold mining and farming.

Allen received the award in June during the 18th Annual Conference of the International Society for new Institutional Economics.

The International Society for new Institutional Economics is an interdisciplinary association established in 1996 by three economic Nobel prize winners (Ronald Coase, Douglass North, and Oliver Williamson). Scholars from more than 46 countries contribute to exploring past, present and future institutions.

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