Design and Evolution in Institutional Development: The Insignificance of the English Bill of Rights

71 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2009 Last revised: 7 Apr 2016

See all articles by Peter Murrell

Peter Murrell

University of Maryland - Department of Economics

Date Written: April 6, 2016


This paper challenges a belief that is deeply embedded in mainstream economics — that 1688-1701 saw a fundamental transformation in England, which sprang from changes in the highest-level institutions designed by those who understood how to effect productive reform. This is the design hypothesis. The alternative is that change occurred in many features of society over a long period and that the 1688-1701 reforms were just one element of a deep ongoing transformation resulting from evolutionary processes. The paper presents evidence of two distinct types. First, legal history shows that the high-level institutional measures of 1688-1701 can be characterized primarily as either durable and endorsing the status quo or path-breaking and ephemeral. This is evolutionary trial and error. Second, patterns in structural breaks in myriad data sets reveal that widespread socioeconomic change was under way before 1688 and continued thereafter. Because England's early development provides a popular paradigmatic example for economists, the paper's verdict on the nature of English history is pertinent to debates on transition and development, on the importance of critical junctures, and on the relative roles of culture and institutions.

Keywords: Institutions, institutional development, constitutions, Glorious Revolution, design, evolution, critical junctures, Hayek, Bill of Rights

JEL Classification: O1, N0, O52, K1, N43, N13, H1, P5, B31

Suggested Citation

Murrell, Peter, Design and Evolution in Institutional Development: The Insignificance of the English Bill of Rights (April 6, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Peter Murrell (Contact Author)

University of Maryland - Department of Economics ( email )

College Park, MD 20742
United States
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