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Family systems shape social institutions, yet they are rarely considered in histories of economic development. In this article, we show that a suite of social conventions—such as age gaps at marriage, bride price, sequestration, and discrimination and violence against women—are overrepresented in polygamous societies as compared to monogamous societies. This dichotomy can be explained on the grounds that polygamy produces a chronic scarcity of marriageable females. We argue that this suite, which we call gamos and which we quantify by two different methods, has demonstrably significant consequences for social, institutional, and economic development.
We can all agree that institutions matter, though as to which institutions matter most, and how much any of them matter, the matter is, paraphrasing Douglass North's words at the Nobel podium, unresolved after seven decades of immense effort. We suggest that the obstacle to progress is the paradigm of the New Institutional Economics itself. In this paper, we propose a new theory that is: grounded in institutions as coevolving sources of economic growth rather than as rules constraining growth; and deployed in dynamical systems theory rather than game theory. We show that with our approach some long-standing problems are resolved, in particular, the paradoxical and perplexingly pervasive influence of informal constraints on the long-run character of economies.
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