by Peter Klein
Twenty years ago (19-21 September 1997), an incredible group of scholars gathered at Washington University, St. Louis for the inaugural conference of the International Society for New Institutional Economics (ISNIE), later rechristened SIOE. I was privileged to attend and it remains one of the highlights of my professional life. The keynote speakers were ISNIE's founding president, Ronald Coase, along with Douglass North and Oliver Williamson, and the program also featured Paul Joskow, Harold Demsetz, Mancur Olson, Claude Ménard, Mary Shirley, Scott Masten, John Nye, Benito Arruñada, Lee Benham, John Drobak, Rudolf Richter, Barry Weingast, and many others. (I can't locate my original program so apologies to those I've omitted.) At this conference I also met for the first time younger scholars and future collaborators like Nicolai and Kirsten Foss, Todd Zenger, Mike Sykuta, Doug Allen, and Dean Lueck (I already knew my Berkeley classmates Nick Argyres, Jackson Nickerson, Joanne Oxley, John De Figuereido, and others who would play important roles in the Society).
Ménard and Shirley write about the history of the Society here, and here is an interview with Coase on the eve of the conference. In the twenty years since both the Society and the field have greatly expanded and changed in important ways. The importance of institutions and organizations is widely recognized and appreciated in mainstream economics and the interactions among economics, law, organization theory, political science, and other fields are deeper and more complex than ever before. For some of its adherents, the "New Institutional Economics" is now more-or-less mainstream economics, and hence more an applied field than a new way to do economics. For others, however, the task of "revolutionizing economics" -- a term favored by Coase -- is far from finished. (Here are some of my thoughts on this, from ten years ago, and here is a 2000 article from a slightly more distinguished writer.)