Friday, July 26, 2013

Charles Darwin and Adam Smith Had Much in Common

A regular correspondent (“airth”) to Lost Legacy drew my attention to an article that had not shown up in my Google Alerts service. 
I read it this evening and was struck by much in it of which I agreed, plus one or two irritating errors inevitable when anyone writes about a multi-disciplinary survey when he is an expert in one discipline but not in another.  I am sure I make elementary mistakes when I write with confidence about natural selection.
Now I have drawn your attention to this important subject and its interesting suggestions for modern economists to consider and improve their options by considering Darwinian evolutionary thinking and its potential for bringing economics more into relevance with the real world.
For now I shall leave you with these thoughts. Adam Smith’s thinking and writing was nothing like the modern image of his moral philosophy or is political economy (the subject of two books of mine: Kennedy, 2005. “Adam Smith’s Lost Legacy”, Palgrave-Macmillan; Kennedy, 2008. 2nd ed. 2010.  “Adam Smith: a moral philosopher and his political economy”, Palgrave-Macmillan).  I have a third book under way, entitled: “An Invisible Hand: a hasty and harmful conclusion”.
I strongly recommend that you follow the link HERE and read David Sloan Wilson’s article in full:
David Sloan Wilson posts in AEON on “A Good Social Darwinism”: Evolution has changed all we know about how humans behave, compete and co-operate. When will economics catch up?
I am preparing to leave France and I return to Scotland tomorrow, from where I will comment in more detail on its interesting ideas and also on its glaring misunderstandings of aspect of Adam Smiths and others writing in the classical liberal tradition until the discipline was captured by neoclassical ideologues under the guise of mathematical methods and the false theory of Homo economicus. 
David Sloan Wilson is on the right track but missing the real target for his critique.  
There is a classical tradition in economics that has always been more empathetic to an evolutionary approach (especially in the writings of Adam Smith and Hayek).  There are some neoclassical economists who, while ignorant of Adam Smith, are also muddled on Darwin too.
I shall return to this subject in Edinburgh over the week-end.


Blogger airth10 said...

"Evolution has changed all we know about how humans behave, compete and co-operate. When will economics catch up?"

Honestly, I have a problem with that comparison, just like I have with the comparison between economics and medicine. All served different purposes and grow differently. These comparisons are treated far too lightly.

I gets as incensed about such comparisons as Gavin gets about the wrong use of the IH metaphor.

11:35 am  
Blogger airth10 said...

Going back to Evolution, perhaps we can learn from it why the income gap between rich and poor is getting wider. Perhaps we should look more closely at the difference between elephants and birds to get a better understand of why.

Seriously, though, Evolution is changing how we will do economics in the future, due to climate change, the rising sea levels and other geographic changes. But I don't think economics will ever have the same impact on natural evolution due to human activity. But who knows. Perhaps some day we will have the economic tools to role back the negative influences of human activity and restore things to their rightful splendour.

There is one area where economists have not examine evolutionary nature closely enough to understand why a particular economic paradigm failed and another didn't. Why did communism collapse and capitalism triumph? The answer is in nature's laws, particularly the second law of thermodynamics, more commonly known as entropy. Since communism ignored its laws, in more ways than one, it stagnated and collapsed. It refused to change, which is the way to combat entropy. On the other hand, capitalism has ascended because it is constantly reforming in order to avoid entropy. Even the financial crises of 2008 was a means of reform in order to change old and bad habits.

12:34 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

airth 10
Thank you for your comments on evolution.
The environment has always influenced every economy known since our predecessors left the forest (some remnants of that world remain where every one were once in the distant past.
Some people suggest we should return to a "simpler" life style closer to that of the forest. Apart from the impracticality of such a policy, I'm not sure that shorter-life spans, and limited knowledge of the universe, no history, and so on, plus plenty of superstition, is not attractive to me.

7:33 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

8:28 am  

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