Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 53–60 | Cite as

Do institutions evolve?

  • Avner GreifEmail author

Elinor Ostrom subscribes to the view that institutions are the rules-of-the-game within which actors strategically choose actions. Specifically, she defines institutions as rules of behavior that specify expected, permissible, and forbidden behavior together with the sanctions that follow “if forbidden actions are taken” (p. 11). Although institutionalized rules are designed, limited cognition implies that they evolve as unexpected events reveal their inefficacy.

Ostrom thus conjectures that institutional evolution is similar to biological evolution in the sense that diversity and experimentation leads to progressively more effective institutions. One policy implication of this argument, she noted, is that it is best to leave rural collective action institutions free of governmental intervention so that evolution will take its course. In the absence of governmental intervention, progressively better rules will emerge and proliferate.

There is no doubt that institutional design reflects...


Biological Evolution Institutional Change Institutional Evolution Historical Process Mutation Process 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (2011). A cooperative species. Human reciprocity and its evolution. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Greif, A. (1994). Cultural beliefs and the organization of society: A historical and theoretical reflection on collectivist and individual societies. Journal of Political Economy, 102, 912–950.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Greif, A. (2006). Institutions and the path to the modern economy: Lessons from medieval trade. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Güth, W., & Yaari, M. (1992). Explaining reciprocal behavior in simple strategic games: An evolutionary approach. In U. Witt (Ed.), Explaining forces and change: Approaches to evolutionary economics (pp. 23–34). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  5. Hodgson, G. M. (2006). What are institutions? Journal of Economic Issues, XL(1), 1–25.Google Scholar
  6. Wilson, E. O. (1975). Sociobiology. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Witt, U. (2006). The evolving economy: Essays on the evolutionary approach to economics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.CIFARTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations