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A Darwinian theory of institutional evolution two centuries before Darwin?

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  • Grajzl, Peter
  • Murrell, Peter

Abstract

How effective institutions come about and how they change are fundamental questions for economics and social science more generally. We show that these questions were central in the deliberations of lawyers in 17th century England, a critical historical juncture that has motivated important institutional theories. We argue that the lawyers held a conceptualization of institutional development that foreshadowed many elements of Darwinism, more than two centuries before Darwin’s great contributions. To this end, we first identify a set of features characteristic of Darwinian evolutionary social-science theories. We then match the lawyers’ own words to these features, revealing the many congruities between a Darwinian approach and the lawyers’ evolutionary model of institutional construction and change. Finally, we analyze the normative conclusions on institutional development that the lawyers drew from their evolutionary analysis.

Suggested Citation

  • Grajzl, Peter & Murrell, Peter, 2016. "A Darwinian theory of institutional evolution two centuries before Darwin?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 131(PA), pages 346-372.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:131:y:2016:i:pa:p:346-372
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2016.09.007
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Peter Grajzl & Peter Murrell, 2017. "A Structural Topic Model of the Features and the Cultural Origins of Bacon's Ideas," CESifo Working Paper Series 6443, CESifo Group Munich.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Institutions; Evolutionary theory; Darwinism; Common law; 17th Century England;

    JEL classification:

    • B00 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - General - - - History of Economic Thought, Methodology, and Heterodox Approaches
    • B52 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary
    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • K40 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - General
    • P40 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - General

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