A Darwinian Theory of Institutional Development Two Centuries Before Darwin

51 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2015 Last revised: 6 Nov 2015

See all articles by Peter Grajzl

Peter Grajzl

Washington and Lee University - Department of Economics; CESifo

Peter Murrell

University of Maryland - Department of Economics

Date Written: November 5, 2015

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 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

Suggested Citation

Grajzl, Peter and Murrell, Peter, A Darwinian Theory of Institutional Development Two Centuries Before Darwin (November 5, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2666722 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2666722

Peter Grajzl (Contact Author)

Washington and Lee University - Department of Economics ( email )

Lexington, VA 24450
United States

HOME PAGE: http://home.wlu.edu/~grajzlp/

CESifo ( email )

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich, DE-81679
Germany

Peter Murrell

University of Maryland - Department of Economics ( email )

College Park, MD 20742
United States
301-405-3476 (Phone)
301-405-3542 (Fax)

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