Economics and Transitions: Lessons from Economic Sub-disciplines

Jeroen van den Bergh & René Kemp


Currently, there is much interest in stimulating or 'speeding up' socio-technical transitions to sustainable systems, most notably in the sectors of energy, transport and agriculture. This essay attempts to assess whether and how 'transition' type problems and issues are being addressed in the various sub-disciplines and methodological approaches of economics. This allows us to identify concepts, ideas, theories and empirical methods in economics that are suitable for inclusion and elaboration in 'transition research'. Surprisingly, we find that many sub-disciplines of economics have in one way or another addressed problems similar to transitions. Our main conclusion therefore is that economics offers a rich palette of ideas that may be useful for transition research. Studies on development stages, long waves, technological path-dependency, conflict resolution, public investments, emergence of institutions and, transitions from communist to market-democracy systems seem especially relevant to the study of transition. Although mainstream economics conflicts in certain ways with the approach called for by many involved in transition research, we show that economics certainly has something to offer to the study of transitions.

UNU-MERIT Working Papers ISSN 1871-9872

Download the working paper