1698. Darwin’s Evolution the wrong frame

Provocation 35.

There is a big push to further legitimate Darwinian  evolution as the major frame for understanding economics.

Economics is in a rush to take a few frameworks; complexity, game theory, and darwinian evolution, as a nearly sufficient set of explanatory assumptions. Such a set of frameworks maintains the highly abstract view of what an economy is and preserves the strategy of mathematizing all behavior.

Some thoughts on the use of evolution.

At its best darwinian evolution is only what an organism does to pass on, or not, its genes, and we call that selection. Not dying keeps the opportunity open ended.

But it is obvious that the amount of time (alas) that we spend passing on our genes is a tiny slice of our lived life.

Most of any animal’ s life is lived in other activities. To say I paint in order to attract gene partners would be to say everything that I do is only for gene passing.

From an evolutionary point of view a cockroach that could poison humans ad then digest them might lead to a world with a lot of cockroaches, and no humans. The roaches would move on to another diet, and we would be gone. Evolution. But is it progress?

Progress is a human concept that has to do with much besides survival of our genes.

Moreover, if it is clear that some activity leads to a human species that can have better quality of life than we would under pure survival of the fittest strategies. We don’t have to do what mere srvival of the fittest implies. . ‘All men are created equal.’ Is clearly false, but we can live by it. It might even weaken the species, but we might have enjoyed an ethical civilization for a while in contrast to say an ethic of the strong winning all the time. Humans are free to chose to act in conflict with evolutionary (survival of the fittest) metrics.

Economics, by taking on evolution as a frame for understanding humans leads us to see ourselves in constant relentless competition, which might lead to a stronger but meaner species, rather than one with cooperation and friendship. We can chose.

To make it more complicated, the idea of evolution, coming from biology leads us – social darwinism – to act as if evolution is an ideology, one if those ideas Keynes warns us about, of dead men that, because we believe them, direct our behavior in ways that are truly detrimental.

Economics wants to assume that we are in economic competition all the time, but humans don’t seem to want to fit that description. We need an economics that understands what people do between birth and passing on their genes, and between passing on their genes and dying.


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