A Darwinian Theory of Institutional Development Two Centuries Before Darwin

Peter Grajzl and Peter Murrell, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 131(A), 346-372, November .


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.

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