Friday, November 07, 2008

Brief Report From Rome

European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy 20th Annual Conference, Rome

I presented my paper, The Pre-History of Bargaining: a multidisciplinary approach (downloadable from the Home page), this morning and it attracted several questions and comments. Given only 25 minutes to present the paper and answer any questions there was not much time for elaboration.

Among the questions asked was why I say that neoclassical theories of bargaining are mainly about wage negotiations (Zeuthen, Hicks,Pen, Harsanyi, Coddington, Cross, which are coercive - strikes and lockouts) and not mutual gains for both parties. Nash (1950) published a Theory of Bargaining which was premissed on the assumption that the process of baragaining was assumed away! The questioner argued firmly that neoclassical exchange was voluntary, to which I commented that neoclassical price theory does not incorporate bargaining being based on price theory.

Adam Smith was quite specific that when someone bargains they use a conditional proposition: 'Give me that which I want and you shall have this which you want'. This is the 'meaning of every such offer' (Wealth Of Nations, WN I.ii.2: p 26). They are not price takers; they 'higgle and bargain' with each other. What today we call the 'negotiation dance'. That process is to too difficult to model. Price theory assumes it away.

A philosophy lecturer asked why I called it a theory of bargaining and not a theory of exchange. Well, my paper is labelled 'Part 1', which goes from the evolution of the Hominids (about 18 species of them) through to the emergence of Homo sapiens in Hunter-gatherer societies, and Part 2 continues the account through the invention of property to shepherding and farming before history was recorded, though both weak quasi-bargaining (reciprocity) and strong quasi-bargaining (enforced reciprocity) operated in the millions of years prior to human society and for thousands of years before full bargaining appeared.

One colleague asked whether mine was a genetic theory of social change, to which the answer is know, but evolution of the hominid and later human species was continuing through the 5 million or so years following the speciation of the Hominids from the common ape ancestor with the chimpanzees. My account of these changes was coincidentally partly genetic, but not causally.

The chairperson was worried that I was going to predict the future of the human species; fortunately I was able to assure her that I followed Adam Smith's self-denying ordinance, not to make predictions Economists divide into two: those who make predictions and those who don't; the former are always, in my view proved wrong; the latter who look backwards and not forwards, can explain why sets of predictions were falsified; the former avoid such explanations, but usually keep making the.



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