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Capitalism: restless and unbounded? Some neo-Polanyian and Schumpeterian reflections

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This paper first explores the notion that the limitlessness of knowledge is a privileged source of the restlessness of capitalism [Metcalfe, J. S. 2001. “Institutions and Progress.” Industrial and Corporate Change 10 (3): 561–586; 2002. “Knowledge of Growth and Growth of Knowledge.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 12 (1): 3–13; 2004. “The Entrepreneur and the Style of Modern Economies.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 14 (2): 157–175; 2010. “University and Business Relations: Connecting the Knowledge Economy.” Minerva 48 (1): 5–33] when combined with incentives of entrepreneurialism in a market society. Metcalfe gives a central paradigm of evolutionary economics a distinctive turn, with knowledge the pre-eminent source of variation, and markets the primary arena of selection. The paper engages this approach with a neo-Polanyian approach of ‘instituted economic process’, in which the variation and selection dynamic is itself seen as instituted within a particular historical economic context. The paper develops a critique of the evolutionary paradigm firstly by suggesting variations in instituted ‘economies of knowledge’ within a multi-modal conception of capitalism. Further breaking with the bipolar variation-selection paradigm, the paper argues that there has been a significant role of the state as a distinctive source of variation and selection in innovation and economic transformation. This leads us finally to analyse the shifting place of economy in society and polity, and the strategic responses in the USA, Brazil and Europe to the historically novel conjuncture of peak oil and global climate change, as a further source of variation. We conclude that a choice between evolutionary and historical approaches to innovation and economic transformation is a false one, once a universalising and unbounded paradigm of variation and selection is abandoned.
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Keywords: evolution; instituted economic process; multi-modality; variation and selection

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology, University of Essex, Essex, UK

Publication date: October 1, 2013

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