The author Paul Pierson envisages the concept of ‘Path
dependency’ as a social process characterized by a dynamic component of ‘ Increasing
returns’. In my opinion he tries to check the robustness of it by applying to the
political sphere. In contrast to a broader concept of path dependency which
refers to the causal relevance of preceding stages in a temporal sequence (Pg.
252), Pierson keeps a single component of increasing returns to the centre of
his argument as they seem to be of great
social significance. In order to gain a proper insight into the meaning
of Increasing returns Pierson suggested to review it in relation to the discipline of economics and further goes
on representing its key features ,as mentioned by Arthur, of being
Unpredictable, Inflexible, Nonergodic and potentially path inefficient which
creates the need for understanding the temporal dimension of the social process of increasing returns.
Pierson opines that Economics provide a good
analytical foundation to demonstrate the prevalence of Increasing returns in the discipline of political sciences and to
explore their causes and consequences. The author states that out of various
economic contexts ‘technology’ provides the best ground for developing arguments
on increasing returns as each technology generates higher pay offs for each
user as it becomes more prevalent and therefore with increasing returns the focus shifts to one single alternative and
once an initial advantage is gained , positive feedback effects may lock in
this technology forming a vicious circle keeping the competition out. Pierson makes a statement that for getting
increase returns not only the characteristics of such processes are important but
also the conditions giving rise to such processes(Pg 254). He therefore provides a basis for understanding the
features that makes increasing returns processes to operate in social world in
interaction with technology. These are
1) Large Set-ups 2) Learning effects 3) Coordination effects 4) Adaptive expectations.
However according to North all these features are very much visible in terms of
institutions as well and in extension to this Pierson mentions that unlike in
economics, path dependency process will be more powerful and established at a
macro level that involves complementary configuration of organizations and
institution (Pg. 255)
Pierson further moves on to the application of increasing returns arguments to
political landscape and tries to provide a contrast between the two branches of
social sciences. Pierson mentions four aspects of politics which is conducive
to increasing returns in social life . a) collective action; where the actions
of the actors are dependent on each other.
b) High institutional density; which
implies that the more deeply an actor recognizes himself with an institution , the more
difficult it becomes for him to get detached from it.
c) Use of political authority in
enhancing asymmetries of power; which reflects the operation of positive
feedback processes backed by political authority & d)
political intrinsic complexity and
opacity ; which marks ambiguity between choices and outcomes. Unlike
economic market it marks the prevalence of increasing returns process in
politics . And to further intensify this process Pierson mentions that The absence or weakness of competitive and learning
mechanisms due to ambiguity and complexity of politics, Short time horizons of political actors
where the shorter tome horizons leads to long term costs with limited effects
on the chosen path & bias status quo
into political institutions where political arrangements become hard to
change , plays an important part. The author therefore states that both the prevalence and intensity
of increasing returns processes implies that path dependence process offers a
significant insights for understanding political dynamics.
In the latter half of his article the author throws light on the application of
path dependency in the study of politics and argued that the political life ,existing
under the increasing returns or path dependent realm, is marked by the
1) Multiple equilibria: It states
that an existing a single condition results in multiple outcome.
2) Contingency : Small events, occurring
at the right moment can result in large and enduring consequences.
3) Timing & sequencing : The
timings of the occurrence of an event is critical as the earlier part of a
sequence matters more than the latter one.
4)Inertia: An increasing return process establishes a
positive feedback reducing the outcome to single equilibria and hence no
further change in the process/technology.
He concludes his article by highlighting how the study of increasing returns can contribute to the
study of political analysis. The
dynamics of increasing returns lay out, as mentioned by Collier & Collier
terms ,”mechanisms of reproduction”(Pg.263) .An investigation of path
dependence can therefore provides a
basis construction hypotheses about the sources of political stability and
change. This study can also help political scientists in presenting a more
vivid role of time and history in social analysis. the advantages and disadvantages of increasing
returns arguments in politics. Pierson also mentions that “when things happen in a sequence
affects how they happen “(Pg.
264). While talking about the difficulties pertaining to the implication of
path dependency Pierson mentions that there is a difficulty in testing
hypotheses based on complex path dependent arguments where there are excessive
variable in contrast to number of cases. His further point is concerned with
the fact that increasing return concepts portrays an overly static view of the
social world where a particular alternative gets permanently locked in a single
cycle of self-reinforcing path.