Family Ties and the Rules of the Game – 5/1/2023 – Michael França

Institutions represent a considerable part of the rules of the game of life. They are creations of human beings, aimed at shaping their interactions, and can be composed both by constraints of formal orders, such as laws and constitutions, and informal ones, such as behavioral norms and social conventions.

Formal rules tend to be determined by political power. At each historical moment, some groups have greater possibilities of generating pressure and asserting their preferences in social choices. In turn, changes in formal institutions tend to be the result of concessions by these groups and generally occur under dispute over the ideals that govern public opinion. Not infrequently, more expressive transformations only happen when there are threats of rupture in the social contract.

In this context, the formal rules of the game of life interact with the informal ones. These reflect the set of beliefs and values ​​intrinsic to the cultural heritage developed by different population groups.

Beliefs and values ​​initially acquired by parents and the social environment in which we are inserted, however, are slowly updated through individual experiences that lead to a natural contestation of part of what was learned at home.

The family is one of the oldest institutions of civilization. Although it can provide its members with a network of mutual support and a possible increase in well-being, the potential negative influences of this institution on individual and collective development should not be overlooked. In this respect, the structure in which they are forged matters.

Family ties by themselves represent a cultural value with high power to influence the socioeconomic relations of each country. In the book “Foundations of Social Theory”, first published in 1990, James Coleman argues that in societies based on strong family ties there is considerable concern for those within the kin circle; however, for those outside, selfish behavior is widely acceptable.

In recent years, researchers from different areas of knowledge have advanced in this field of study. Alberto Alesina and Paola Giuliano, for example, found that societies that rely heavily on families tend to have lower civic sense, female participation in the labor market, and widespread trust (Family Ties, 2014).

Furthermore, in societies with strong family ties, capitalism and competition tend to go only as far as they generate advantages for the closest members. Marianne Bertrand and Antoinette Schoar showed that in these societies there is a higher percentage of family businesses and nepotism in hiring tends to lower the average quality of firms (The Role of Family in Family Firms, 2006).

In this way, what we have in each society is a broad institutional apparatus, formal and informal, which shape the mental constructions of each one and dictate the rules of the game of life. In all this context, our choices, preferences and the alleged individual freedom end up being more influenced and restricted than many people imagine.

The text is a tribute to the song “Hoppípolla”, by Sigur Rós.

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