A Darwinian Theory of Institutional Development Two Centuries Before Darwin
51 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2015 Last revised: 6 Nov 2015
Date Written: November 5, 2015
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 was remarkably Darwinian in nature, 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 distinctly Darwinian character of 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.
Keywords: institutions, evolutionary theory, Darwinism, common law, 17th century England
JEL Classification: B00, B52, D02, K40, P40
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