Institutional Persistence and Change in England's Common Law: 1700-1865
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Institutions are widely regarded as important, even ultimate drivers of economic growth and performance. A recent mainstream of institutional economics has concentrated on the effect of persisting, often imprecisely measured institutions and on cataclysmic events as agents of noteworthy institutional change. As a consequence, institutional change without large-scale shocks has received little attention. In this dissertation I apply a complementary, quantitative-descriptive approach that relies on measures of actually enforced institutions to study institutional persistence and change over a long time period that is undisturbed by the typically studied cataclysmic events. By placing institutional change into the center of attention one can recognize different speeds of institutional innovation and the continuous coexistence of institutional persistence and change. Specifically, I combine text mining procedures, network analysis techniques and statistical approaches to study persistence and change in England’s common law over the Industrial Revolution (1700-1865). Based on the doctrine of precedent - a peculiarity of common law systems - I construct and analyze the apparently first citation network that reflects lawmaking in England. Most strikingly, I find large-scale change in the making of English common law around the turn of the 19th century - a period free from the typically studied cataclysmic events. Within a few decades a legal innovation process with low depreciation rates (1 to 2 percent) and strong past-persistence transitioned to a present-focused innovation process with significantly higher depreciation rates (4 to 6 percent) and weak past-persistence. Comparison with U.S. Supreme Court data reveals a similar U.S. transition towards the end of the 19th century. The English and U.S. transitions appear to have unfolded in a very specific manner: a new body of law arose during the transitions and developed in a self-referential manner while the existing body of law lost influence, but remained prominent. Additional findings suggest that Parliament doubled its influence on the making of case law within the first decades after the Glorious Revolution and that England’s legal rules manifested a high degree of long-term persistence. The latter allows for the possibility that the often-noted persistence of institutional outcomes derives from the actual persistence of institutions.