How the Darwinian Revolution Can Fix Economics

The inability to acknowledge our Darwinian nature leaves reformers in an awkward position

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By George Cooper

“If there is anything unique about the human animal it is that it has the ability to grow knowledge at an accelerating rate while being chronically incapable of learning from experience.”

John N. Gray, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (2013)

If today’s generation of economic rethinkers are to fail and fade away, as others have done before them, without having successfully overthrown the neoclassical orthodoxy, I suspect the culprit will prove to be a naïve saccharin-sweet view of human nature which is gaining ground within a significant portion of the movement.

How the Left Was Lost

The neoclassical paradigm has pulled off the remarkable trick of telling a story in which we humans produce the best of all possible worlds through acting in the worst of all possible ways. We are modelled as self-serving selfish individuals interested only in our own welfare and told that this behaviour produces an ideal optimised economy. In the language of Keynes: “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.” According to this paradigm, people are selfish but economies are altruistic or, in more childish language: we are nasty but the world is nice.

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Much, perhaps all, of the energy behind the Rethinking Economics movement arises out of a desire to overturn the latter part of this narrative – no one that I know of within the Rethinking Economics community believes the economy is a ‘nice’ self-optimising system. If there is one single idea binding together the whole movement it is the belief that it is possible to organise our economy in such a way as to produce a better outcome than the one we currently have.

The issue-driven rethinkers all, in one way or another, aim to show how the current economic situation falls far short of an optimal situation. Monetary rethinkers attack the mechanisms by which the aggregate economy is supposed to achieve its optimal equilibrium. Behavioural rethinkers have, for their part, launched two separate attacks on the neoclassical narrative: one attacking the idea of individualism and another attacking the idea of selfishness.

The upshot of all of these efforts has been a collective attempt to formulate and then popularise an alternate economic paradigm which is presented as the perfect antithesis of the neoclassical paradigm. Where the neoclassical story is of a self-interested individual, the pluralist rethinkers promote an idea of an altruistic society. Where the neoclassical story is of an optimised economy, the pluralists talk of a deeply suboptimal world.

Frans De Waal, one of the leading academics pushing for a rethinking of human nature, begins his book The Age Of Empathy with the line, “Greed is out, empathy is in”, and goes on to make the following statement: “What we need is a complete overhaul of assumptions about human nature. Too many economists and politicians model human society on the perpetual struggle they believe exists in nature, but which is a mere projection.”

The desire to re-present human nature as inherently less competitive and more cooperative, less selfish and more sharing even goes as far as suggesting a reinterpretation of the history of human warfare and early humanity:

“Although archaeological signs of individual murder go back hundreds of years, we lack similar evidence for warfare (such as graveyards with weapons embedded in a large number of skeletons) from before the agricultural revolution. Even the walls of Jericho, considered one of the first pieces of evidence of warfare and famous for having come tumbling down in the Old Testament, may have served mainly as protection against mudflows…

“… Bushmen are not too worried about intergroup hostilities. This is not to say that war is totally absent in preliterate societies: We know many tribes that engage in it occasionally, and some that do so regularly. My guess is that for our ancestors war was always a possibility, but that they followed the pattern of present-day hunter-gathers, who… alternate long stretches of peace and harmony with brief interludes of violent confrontation.”

Unsurprisingly, those within the behavioural rethinking tribe who are keen to push the narrative of cooperation, altruism, empathy and sharing are less supportive of my suggestion that we humans are by nature Darwinian competitors. Many within the Rethinking Economics movement, I have discovered, have an almost visceral aversion to the idea that we humans may have evolved not just our physical traits but also our behavioural traits through a Darwinian selection process designed to deal with a Malthusian world in which we are forced to compete with one another for scarce resources. But the logic of the Darwinian evolutionary process is difficult to refute, even if it does give an uncomfortable resonance to the dark words of Gore Vidal: “It’s not enough to succeed, others must fail” and “Every time a friend succeeds I die a little”.

More importantly for the Rethinking Economics community, the inability to acknowledge our Darwinian nature leaves the reformers arguing from an awkwardly implausible position. We are, for example, supposed to swallow the story that the global financial crisis was brought about by the egregious greed of bankers, and before that the Nasdaq crash by the egregious greed of corporate executives, yet at the same time we must swallow a narrative of humans being naturally inclined toward sharing, cooperation, empathy and altruism. At best this confused narrative requires considerable explanation. At worst it risks blinding us to the reality of our own nature, leaving us ill-equipped to consider the very issues with which the Rethinking Economics community is so concerned.

A more coherent line of attack upon the neoclassical paradigm would surely be to accept, at least partially, its view of human nature as inherently selfish and to direct the principal challenge at the much weaker assertion that individual selfishness leads to the promotion of the public interest. Starting from this position would at least provide a sound position from which to argue for the obviously necessary rules and regulations which are a feature of all successful societies but which are viewed by the neoclassical paradigm as an impediment to economic progress.

Viewed in this way, the pluralist Rethinking Economics community has made a strategic mistake in how they have chosen to attack the neoclassical paradigm. They have countered the nasty neoclassical ‘selfish human’ with a nice pluralist ‘altruistic human’ narrative. The pluralists may be able to construct a more convincing rebuttal of the neoclassical narrative by parking their tanks on the lawn of the enemy arguing: yes, we have a selfish nature and not just a selfish nature but a Darwinian competitive selfish nature and this is why we must regulate our own affairs. All successful societies and economies have developed mechanisms to harness and tame our nature – neither the neoclassical individualist paradigm nor the pluralist cooperative, empathetic sharing paradigm explain why these mechanisms are necessary.

In very simplistic language the neoclassical story is: people are nasty but the world is nice. While the pluralist story is: people are nice but the world is nasty. Neither of these paradigms is terribly convincing, but somehow the ‘nice people, nasty world’ version which defines much of the thinking on the political left is the less convincing of the two. The upshot of this situation is that the right-leaning neoclassical school is more confident and more convincing. While the left-leaning pluralist school is confused and unpersuasive – it rails against the inequity of the world while at the same time refusing to recognise its cause.

The left complains that the world is run by Gordon Geckos, while believing its population is drawn exclusively from the ranks of the Salvation Army.

Darwin Denied

The Copernican revolution and the Darwinian revolution stand apart from all other scientific revolutions in that they changed both our view of the world around us and our view of ourselves.

The Copernican revolution changed the way we think about the universe but in doing so it pushed humanity from its hallowed position at the centre of the universe. The Darwinian revolution changed the way we think about the animal kingdom but in doing so it placed us firmly within that kingdom; we became just one of many millions of other species. After Copernicus the notion that the universe was built literally to revolve around mankind became untenable. After Darwin the notion that we were modelled in the image of God became equally untenable. Copernicus stripped mankind of one of its greatest vanities and Darwin stripped us of another.

The more modest, more realistic self-image which humanity acquired as a result of Copernicus and Darwin is captured eloquently in the immortal words of Douglas Adams:

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

Perhaps the Darwinian revolution is still only half done. We have accepted that our biology evolved through a Darwinian selection process but we have yet to accept that our behaviour also evolved through Darwinian selection.

There is an amusing irony in the attitudes of the left-leaning pluralist thinkers versus those of the right-leaning neoclassical camp. The conservative right is generally more comfortable with religion and faith, whereas those on the left tend to pride themselves on holding a rational scientific world view. Yet when it comes to matters of human behaviour it is the right who have embraced a behavioural model broadly compatible with Darwin’s science, while the left appear intent on defending a spiritually inspired behavioural myth.

The philosopher John Gray has offered an interesting critique of the modern humanist movement which he sees as form of secular religion intent on promoting the idea that human nature is unique and apart from that of the animal kingdom: “Human uniqueness is a myth inherited from religion, which humanists have recycled into science.” A very similar critique could be levelled at much of the behavioural thinking within the pluralist Rethinking Economics movement.

The denial of our Darwinian nature is not just an academic issue. It is an important barrier to understanding how and why our modern economy should be managed. The failure to build a realistic model of human behaviour into our model of the economy leaves us unable to understand either individual or group-level behaviour and, by implication, ill-equipped to regulate that behaviour. Perhaps the biggest barrier to developing a better understanding of how our economy works is our own perception of our nature.

Competition vs Cooperation – A False Dichotomy

In truth neither the neoclassicals’ story – we are nasty but the world is nice – nor the pluralists’ story – we are nice but the world is nasty – is fully convincing. We humans clearly exhibit a broad range of behavioural traits, both at the level of the individual and even more so at the group level where complex emergent behaviour becomes all-important. The very fact that we have words for cooperation, altruism, generosity and empathy on the one hand and competition, selfishness, antipathy and jealously on the other hand, suggests these are all very real behavioural traits.

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The debate over whether we humans are competitors or cooperators is clearly a false dichotomy – we are very clearly both. Yet all too often discussions of these issues are presented as a dichotomy demanding that we choose the ‘nice’ cooperator camp or the ‘nasty’ competitor camp. Reconciling these two world views is another example of a problem begging for a Kuhnian solution. If we label the ‘selfish competitor’ as the behavioural thesis and the ‘altruistic cooperator’ its behavioural antithesis, then the path to improving our understanding of human behaviour lies in finding the paradigm to synthesise these two world views.

In conclusion, the empathy, altruism, cooperation behavioural paradigm is dominating the thinking of many within the Rethinking  Economics community. Before embracing these ideas too enthusiastically it is worth stepping back and asking ourselves if the world we see around us and the stories of our history books really do accord with such a benign view of human nature.

Our belief in the benevolence of human nature may be the last vanity of man and the greatest barrier to understanding our economic system.

9780857195579Excerpt from Fixing Economics, Published by Harriman House 2016.

2016 August 31

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  • Daniele Bigi

    Good morning, I’m an Italian student (Master in Economics) and a member of Rethinking Economics Bologna.
    I don’t mean to question the opinion of the author about the beliefs concerning human nature that prevail among the community of Rethinking Economics: many of us do believe in a fundamentally cooperative human nature (even though many others don’t) and it may very well be a reaction to the pervasiveness of the assumptions of rationality and selfishness in the models that we are to study, mainly neoclassical ones.
    I would like instead to propose a different interpretation of pluralism, the one that guides my efforts and many other Rethinkers’. The point is not about what humans really are, cooperators or competitors; different conceptions of humans exist and are legitimate, if only because people have different objectives and strategies in different circumstances, and as economists we should investigate all those that are relevant to the economy, since they lead to contrasting conclusions. Pluralism simply means giving these perspectives equal dignity, leaving behind the idea of an unquestionable truth in economics. Any of us may have his/her idea, however ideological or fideistic it may be; the progress of the discipline however is not in the victory of a paradigm against the other, rather in the debates and conflicts that arise between such paradigms. If such debates take place on equal grounds (both sides acknowledge the other) and if the participants use different kinds of arguments to support their thesis (each accepting the other methodologies, if only in principle) all the while creating a common space for confrontations, these debates would be much more enriching than trying to clarify once and for all if humans are competitors or cooperators.
    In conclusion, pluralists should not simply be adversaries of the selfishness assumptions, but should fight in order to allow other ideas to be equally respected.

    • It seems to me there is a major error in your thesis Daniele.

      It is not ideas that are deserving of respect, but the people that hold them.

      There are many ideas around that are useful heuristics only in very limited domains (like the idea the earth is flat, great if you are building a hut using wood, hammer and nails, not so good if you are building a sky scraper with high precision pre-cast components, or traveling even a few hundred miles by sea).

      And it depends very much what one is doing, as to the level of systems understanding that is required to make useful and reliable judgments. You don’t need to worry about quantum mechanics to build a wooden boat, but you definitely do if you want to build a nuclear power station, or design a new form of semi-conductor device, or understand the full range of human behaviour.

      If your objective is to create social systems that support personal security and personal freedom on the very long term, then one must be prepared to look deeply into evolutionary theory, probability, games theory, complexity theory, biochemistry, cybernetics and systems theory more generally and quantum mechanics.

      If you do that, then you will start to understand something of the complexity of what human beings are, and why they tend to behave in the general classes of ways of behaving that they do. You will begin to see why market based economics has now become the single greatest cause of risk to the survival of us all (through its influence on the probabilities of other forms of conflict that would become the more proximal cause of death and destruction on an entirely unmanageable scale – in terms of personal risk).

      And that is not simple.
      We are not simple.
      No simple theory of what a human being is, or how human beings behave, will work in the complex set of contexts that actually exist.

      Sure, in some specific types of contexts, our behaviour is remarkably uniform, but not in others.

      Simplifying assumptions can and do work in some contexts, and not all.

      Human beings really are the most complex things we are currently aware of in this universe. And I say that as someone who has had a deep technical interest in the subject for over 50 years.

  • I kind of agree with the author.

    Evolution is about differential survival acting as a filter.

    If the context is such that there are insufficient resources for all to survive, then competitive strategies will dominate.
    If there are sufficient resources for all, and there are many other threats to survival, then cooperative strategies are most effective (provided attendant strategies are present to prevent cheating).
    This is games theory 101 stuff.

    So humans have both competitive and cooperative natures, at both genetic and cultural levels, and which gets expressed is highly context dependent, and there are lot of modifying probabilities at play, that mean that pure strategies are seldom present.

    It seems that much of human evolution has been in a sort of stochastic “sweet spot” where other forces have kept populations at levels that have meant that we are highly biased towards cooperative strategies (and we can all compete if required).

    In a competitive world, where most resources were in fact scarce, then market based economics and money made good sense – it worked in practice.

    In a world of exponentially expanding capacity to automate and deliver universal abundance, then markets (with their value basis in scarcity) fail to deliver sensible outcomes.

    It is technology, with the exponentially increasing capacity to do more with less, that is changing the fundamental context of the game.

    Markets are past their “use by” date.

    Cooperation can pay far higher dividends to everyone than competition, in every conceivable metric except money; because anything universally abundant must, by definition, like the air we breath, have zero market value.

    We are neither angels nor devils.

    We are human.

    Yes we have all these possible ways of being that are well codified in culture, and many more beside (a potentially infinite collection possible).

    There is no logical limit to our creative potential.

    Understand Darwin, Dawkins, Axelrod, Ostrom, Wolfram!

    We have a real chance at creating universal prosperity, using technology to create a context where cooperation of all players delivers the best possible outcome for all.

    The only catch is – economics must die!
    We have to stop thinking in terms of exchange values, and start thinking in terms of automated systems that deliver universal abundance of goods and services.

    • ohminus

      “If the context is such that there are insufficient resources for all to survive, then competitive strategies will dominate.
      If there are sufficient resources for all, and there are many other threats to survival, then cooperative strategies are most effective (provided attendant strategies are present to prevent cheating).
      This is games theory 101 stuff.”

      It’s precisely that idea that results in a “last man on the planet” scenario. “Insufficient resources for all to survive” is not a fixed amount. It is an amount that can be influenced by increasing the efficiency of both resource usage and resource collection. Getting all competitive about it robs you of innovative potential.

      “It seems that much of human evolution has been in a sort of stochastic “sweet spot” where other forces have kept populations at levels that have meant that we are highly biased towards cooperative strategies (and we can all compete if required).”

      Given that a)human population has exploded in relatively recent history with barely enough time to evolunarily adapt and b)cooperation is highly prevalent in the animal kingdom, that looks like a somewhat strange assumption.

      “In a competitive world, where most resources were in fact scarce, then market based economics and money made good sense – it worked in practice.”

      It worked in making abundant resources scarce because the pure market-based economics has a prime interest in keeping resources scarce. The more scarce the resource, the more money can be made with it.

      • I think we fundamentally agree.

        I am all for creating a world where cooperation completely dominates as an organising principle, and where there are many levels of active secondary strategies present to prevent cheating, and where the principle values are individual life and individual liberty (within a responsible cooperative set of social and ecological contexts). And that is about as simple as I can make it, and each of those words encompasses masses of complexity.

        And in doing that, creating that system, it is powerful to be as clear as possible about the systemic and strategic environments that have bought us to where we are.

        There is a fundamental point at which the predator prey relationship is competitive, and not at all cooperative. Individual life, individual liberty, cannot have security within an environment where the predator prey strategic relationship exists. That set of strategies strategies cannot be amongst the strategic sets tolerated, it must be amongst the class of sets that qualify as “cheating”, and must have secondary strategies present to effectively remove it from the real social context.

        The thing to get, is that does not mean removing people, it only means altering their behaviour such that such strategic sets do not get expressed in practice in a way that threatens the life and liberty of other individuals. Lots of ways of doing that that still allow such strategies to express, such as gaming environments (be they golf courses, rugby fields, or some form of virtual reality).

        I agree with you, that pure market systems will tend to drive physical systems to a level of scarcity that maximises profit, and that there may in practice be many cases of “overshoot” leading to far from optimal outcomes even from a profit based perspective.

        I am also making the further claim, that the often made promise of free markets, to decrease poverty, is clearly false in any sense that most people would accept.

        Human well being has a need for security.
        Markets introduce profound insecurity.
        Many people are currently experiencing profound anxiety.
        As many as 20% of the adult population in “Western” countries are now on some form of anti anxiety medication.

        Advertising and spin and “news” only work to a degree.
        There does come a point where reality starts to seep in around the edges of dogma and belief.

        As I stated at the start of this piece, I am clear that universal cooperation is possible.
        I am also clear that such cooperation can never be the natural outgrowth of market forces, and must always be resisted (in a very real set of senses) by the incentives of any market based way of setting values.
        It takes a level of choice that is beyond markets.

        Human behaviour is extremely complex.
        It has aspects that are habitual.
        It has aspects that are strategic.
        It has aspects that are heuristic.
        It can have aspects that are logical.
        It has aspects that are random.
        It has aspects that are intuitive.
        And in a very real sense, if the context is appropriate, it has aspects that are fundamentally cooperative (and in other contexts competitive).

        Context is king.

        Managing context is the key to creating a sustainable, secure future.

        It seems clear to me that there is no limit to the levels of context possible, though most people seem to deal only with relative small integers of levels (1, 2 or 3 being most common – and to be clear it seems that any level may be infinite, and contain infinite complexity in both algorithmic and strategic senses). Once you get past 10 it can be difficult to be confident about the distinction between levels and instances of conceptual sets within levels. Everything becomes a vast probabilistic and heuristic network of complexity in the deepest sense of complexity.

    • Hmmm. Game theory seems to me to be part of the problem in distorting how we see human beings. Partly because the “Beautiful Mind” guy’s mind was very far from beautiful. And all too often when you put people in these artificial situations described by Game Theory they simply don’t behave as Game Theory predicts. Its a Neoliberal wet dream and a nightmare for the 99%.

      Understand Darwin, certainly. But put Darwin in his historical and political context. He was a member of the ruling classes at the height of the British Empire and everything that came with it. Like so many other men of his generation he was (probably unconsciously) looking for some non-religious justification for the exploitation of millions of his fellow human beings that allowed him to live a very comfortable life without ever having to work.

      Similarly with Dawkins, another man from the ruling classes whose contribution to knowledge was to (re)apply Neoliberal ideology to biology. If any man represents humanity’s failure to understand itself, it is the latter-day Dawkins. It is hard to imagine a man less well informed on the application of Darwin’s ideas to the the psychology of belief, for example.

      No doubt we could continue in this vein and would come to a better understanding of the place of the theorists you praise in our society as justifiers of ideologies and their hegemonic narratives. We might start to question the mainstream and the various justifications for exploitation and power. Ultimately that might help us to reframe our lives without ideologies such as those you espouse. Certainly it seems to me that simply replacing the current ideology with another ideology (even one like yours) won’t solve the problems caused by living lives dominated by ideology,

      The question them becomes, is it possible to build a human society that is not based on an ideology, or are we forced, as you imply, to try to chose the best ideology. And how do we reach a true consensus on what is best? Or are we stuck with the situation of the 1% imposing the ideology that suits them as in history and as now.

      • Hi Jayarava

        To me, it is not games theory that is the problem, it is the way in which some people apply it.

        And it all depends what we understand by the term “ideology”.

        To me, the greatest problem with humanity has been and is the tendency to search for simple models, simple heuristics.

        We have so many tendencies towards simplicity, that we often adopt models that are far too simple for the complexity that actually exists.

        From another perspective, one can view the course of history as interactions of different types of models of reality with different sets of strategies employed within the sets of models present.
        From this perspective, it is the evolution of the depth and complexity of the models that is most interesting.

        The earliest models all assumed truth, and developed various strategies for identifying truth. Most use the heuristics of “gods” to make some sort of sense of the very complex environments within which they found themselves.

        Slowly, many different classes of heuristic evolved.
        People at different levels started to become aware of the limits of various sort of strategies, and their interactions, and most models were still dominated by the idea of truth, most looked for purpose externally.

        Newton is perhaps the greatest exponent of this addiction to truth, with his ideology of a clockwork universe controlled by mathematical laws. A device very powerfully exploited by the ruling classes of the time in one sense.

        Einstein did something different, he looked at what observations seemed to say was real, and put those numbers and concepts into the best mathematical models available, and followed where the logic of mathematics went. That took Heisenberg and others to places of profound quantum uncertainty. The search for truth at the macro, leading to the most profound uncertainty at the micro. Something Einstein could never quite accept (he wasn’t alone in that, not too many people at all have really accepted it, or its deeper implications).

        Darwin gave us a mechanism for how complexity and order can emerge from simplicity.
        Many others contributed to the details of the many levels of physical and strategic complexity that arise in that process.
        Dawkins extended that whole logical framework to the realm of ideas, and in so doing opened the possibility of perhaps infinite recursion to higher levels (not too many people have gone far down that path).

        While neither may not have gone very far down those paths themselves, they are most certainly to be acknowledged for the pioneering work they did in opening the infinite realms they did to exploration by others.

        I did not come from privilege, but rather from poverty.

        A tiny flap of skin under my tongue meant that I could not make an “R” sound until about 7 years old – so as a young child I was treated as retarded by many, the target of abuse by many. I learned to avoid social groups, as such interactions almost always ended badly for me. So I learned that safety lay in places like libraries. I found interest in the sets of ideas contained in the words of others, and in the complexity of nature and technology. So being largely ignored by adults and children alike, I was essentially free to follow ideas where they went. A habit I have continued throughout life.
        I don’t particularly worry about social agreement.
        It’s nice when it happens, and it doesn’t happen often.

        I am much more interested in reality.
        What is it?
        What is it like?
        Why does it behave as it does?
        What sorts of other ways might it behave?
        How does one transition from one state to another?
        How do we understand it?
        How are we part of it?
        What is a human being?

        I am dealing with very complex, multi dimensional models.

        I don’t have truth.
        I have possibilities, probabilities, dispositions to action, systems, boundaries with permiabilities in many different dimensions.

        Games theory is one of the very important and highly dimensional tools that I use.
        It is not simple.
        The simplest model of a human being that I find useful contains 20 levels of very complex sets of systems, with linkages both sideways within levels, and up and down between levels. 10 levels are physical, influenced by genetic evolution, 10 levels are mimetic, subject to both physical and behavioural influence. Each level contains many complex systems within it.

        Human beings, each and every one of us, are the most profoundly complex systems I am aware of.

        “Ideology” for me, in the context described above, is not about control.
        In the model I have, ideas have influence, disposition to action in complex systems.
        The ideas that seem most important to me are individual life and individual liberty.

        And as individuals, we all must exist in physical and social realities.
        So liberty in this sense is not any sort of unfettered freedom, but is rather a responsibility to act in ways that do not cause unreasonable risk to the life and liberty of others.
        So we must act responsibly in both social and physical/biological contexts.

        So I don’t have truth.
        And I am aware that many people still accept ideas like truth, and laws, and have them as realities in their worlds.

        I have uncertainty, profound uncertainty most places I look, and in a few areas I have a certain level of confidence.

        I am very confident, that continued reliance on values generated in markets can only lead to exponentially increasing risks to everyone.

        I am very confident that we can all enjoy profound levels of choice, freedom and security if we consciously choose to transcend market values and create technologies that deliver profound abundance to all (no exceptions – that means for the 1% and the 0.0001% as well as the rest of us).

        I am clear that there are an infinite set of possible transition strategies. I am not attached to any particular one.

        I am committed to the transition.

        • TL:DR.

          • The major issue of our age – most prefer simplicity to real depth.
            How can they live?

          • I’ll tell you what I prefer: clarity of thought. Your long rambling comments lack it. Then you generalise wildly from my unwillingness to read your bad writing to diagnose the fall of civilisation, when the problem is just that you are a poor writer and this is nothing to do with democracy or liberty.

            Of the many major issues of our time, the democratisation of publishing has led to many people with no interest in writing with skill or clarity getting platforms to blurt out what’s on their minds with no effort to meet any standard at all. The result is often drivel.

            I’ve no sense that I should spend my limited time reading your ideas when there are literally thousands of other people who put in a lot more effort and make a lot more sense to give my attention to. Certainly my reading does not lack depth by most standards. I’m presently reading John Searle’s “The Construction of Social Reality”; Robert Kegan’s “The Evolving Self” is next on my list. And I’m dipping into the Communist Manifesto a little each day. You simply cannot compete.

          • I read something, thought about it, and I wrote something.
            You read what I wrote, responded.
            I read what you wrote, thought about it.
            I responded to you in a little greater depth.
            Your response – Too long, not going to read it.
            That is a possible response.

            You said you prefer clarity (which is another name for simplicity) and my “long rambling comments” lack it.
            In a certain sense, yes – I am pointing to relationships that are not at all simple or clear, and are often “murky” at fundamental levels (like quantum mechanics).

            This is actually a problem in our society.
            Most people are looking for rules and certainty (clarity) where it really does not exist, where attempts to put it there are at best mistaken and at worst deliberately deceptive; and in both cases dangerous. The human power for self deception is unlimited.

            And that is a very deep set of explorations into ontology and epistemology, far deeper that anything Searle has attempted to date.

            Marx had some interesting ideas (though a particularly boring pedantic style of writing from my perspective), I found David Harvey’s view of Marx particularly interesting, though still insufficient when one brings the conceptual tools given us by the likes of Darwin, Russell, Wittgenstein, Einstein, Heisenberg, Turing, Goedel, Axelrod, Wolfram et al into the picture.

            Lots of interesting writers and thinkers out there, who bring aspects of the systems into clarity (in as much as any sort of clarity is even possible). David Snowden on complexity is one of the better ones.

            I am not surprised that my writing lacks the clarity you seek.
            There is profound complexity and uncertainty in many of the realms I inhabit. There is no language possible for the clear communication of such abstracts – something like the C notation of ****Evolution might point to the depth of abstraction in a particular context, but not localise to any particular instance (of the infinity available) of abstraction at that level.
            That is one of the profound difficulties of dealing with abstraction, in every individual mind, each level of abstraction must be discovered anew. The more levels one goes through, the greater the linkages one discovers, and the less adequate is language for communication to any other.
            One can gain a certain level of skill in choosing contexts where a particular mind is more likely to make an abstraction for itself, and that is as much as any of us can do.

          • Again. TL:DR. Time is short. Especially when a windbag is criticising me.

          • Darius Gegnazz

            I really like your thoughts. It reminds me of the basic tenets of ‘post-normal science’: acts uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent.

            And Jayarava, you should climb down from your intellectual horse. Be more respectful of other people’s writings. If you think your thoughts are so much better, then don’t waste your time in comment sections and write a book.

  • laura mezzanotte

    A simple question for the author of this book: why is there in our brain a mechanism which gives a rewarding feeling (like the one governing pleasure) every time we do good? And I mean “good to others”.
    What’s the need of it, if nature makes us as “homo homini lupus”? And why isn’t there a similar one for being selfish?

    • There is. We have both. Which one gets expressed depends entirely on context.

      Have you ever been in a serious fight, and felt the elation of beating an opponent – same thing different context.

      If our subconscious makes the assessment that there is enough for all, then it will reward cooperative over competitive behaviours. {That same assessment of how much needed stuff is available also influences the size of the set we we are prepared to cooperate with, which may be as small as one sibling or one friend, or immediate family, or community, or tribe, or country, or planet or sapience more generally. How big the “in group” can become is very much a function of how abundant we experience reality as being. This is where the fundamental tension between our technical ability to automate production and thence deliver universal abundance and our dominant social system of using markets (a scarcity based measure) to measure value, has now reached crisis point. In order for markets to work, scarcity must exist for some. At some point, there comes an awareness of that fact, generally, in society. One of the things about making cooperation stable is a need for secondary strategies to prevent cheating. One of the secondary strategies we all have is a sense of injustice. When a large fraction of the population becomes aware that the only reason for their experience of lack is a system sponsored by a few for their individual benefit, then the sense of injustice will lead to system destabilising conflict. In an age of nuclear weapons, that is not a stable solution for anyone. The only meta-stable solution is replacing the scarcity based system (markets/money) with one based in abundance for all from fully automated and widely distributed production of all essential goods and services. Everyone, even the set of “the few” in the current system, is better off.}

      The math for how that works is a little complex, and depends on the frequency and intensity of different sorts of contexts in our evolutionary past (in both the genetic and cultural senses of evolution) and the rewards (impact on long term survival) in both cases.

      And it isn’t that complex.
      It just relies on the frequencies of contexts being in a general set of bands of probability over time, a bit like orbital frequencies for electrons in quantum mechanics (but not quite).

      • laura mezzanotte

        I apologise, but stopped reading at “the elation of beating an opponent”.
        Ask yourself why people need to depict the “opponent” – at least deep inside, out of reach of political and social correctness – as an “enemy”.
        I give you my answer: there must be a – albeit very remote and often not understandable to ourselves – danger to oneself to push us “beating” somebody.
        The feeling you are talking about is not reward-pleasure mechanism. Deep inside it’s relief from a averted danger.

        • You didn’t answer my question Laura.

          Have you ever had that feeling, in a life threatening conflict situation?

          If you have, and you honestly think that it is as you describe, that I will listen to.
          I have, and for me it was not as you describe.
          For me, it was as I described.

          • laura mezzanotte

            Are you telling me that you find pleasure and satisfaction when you beat a human being?

          • You still haven’t answered my question.

            Answer it I’ll answer yours.

      • ohminus

        “Have you ever been in a serious fight, and felt the elation of beating an opponent – same thing different context.”

        Endorphines released along with the adrenalin by your body to mask your pain. Totally different thing, in fact. A temporal “high” that is biochemically quite a bit different from sustained happiness.

        • Hi Ohminus

          I majored in biochemistry too, completed my undergrad in 1974. Have kept a watching brief since.

          What you say is true in a limited sense, and it can be much more complex than that.

          The situation in groups like biker gangs, special forces, etc appears to strongly indicate something much more complex is also present.

          When I was studying biochemistry and neurophysiology I never expected to ever be in a context where I would face having someone trying to stick a knife in me for half an hour. That was a very interesting and informative experience, though not one I would ever have voluntarily chosen, nor voluntarily repeat. My physiological responses were not at all simple.
          Sure the ones you mention were present, and much more as well.

      • Can you talk to the dynamic between the potential for universal abundance and the principle of infinite growth? In present economic thinking, economic abundance is present only where there is economic growth or expansion. Stasis does not, according to this idea, produce abundance, but stagnation. The system must remain dynamic and expanding. I ask this question more out of an interest in how you reconcile or understand how population relates to the economy and your proposal of universal abundance. Abundance is relative to the body that consumes it. If that body grows, then abundance diminishes in relation to to that body. It seems to me that modernity can be seen as having produced nothing more than a vast expansion in population. This achievement, it seems to me, is strictly Darwinian, in that extension and expansion of a particular species is the end of its evolution.

        • Hi Alex,

          Several aspects here that are best decoupled to understand more clearly.

          To start with, be clear that I am proposing that we stop using markets and money as a prime measure of value. The prime reason for that, is that market values all involve some function of scarcity, meaning that universal abundance of anything has no market value.

          The next idea to look at is abundance – what does it mean?

          Abundance, in practice, means having all you need when you need it.

          Our technological productivity is doubling every year. Our population has been doubling every 30 years, and the more choices we give people, the slower the rate of population growth. Having children takes a lot of time and energy. Given real choice, most people limit family size and explore other options in life (which doesn’t mean limiting sex, only conception – evolution only gave us a sex drive, not a conception drive – it was close enough in our less technical past).

          Abundance is very much a function of the technology available. When our ancestors were hunter gatherers, we needed lots of territory to find enough food. Now we can fully automate the production of food in controlled environments optimised for that function, and feed a person from less than 100 square meters.

          Most people actually have reasonable needs that are quite limited, and can quite easily be met with a few tonnes of matter and a few tens of kilowatts of continuous power. Atomic level refining and manufacturing means we can recycle everything with 100% efficiency in terms of matter (it just costs energy, which the sun delivers an abundance of).

          Infinite growth can occur in the domain of possibilities, the different ways in which that mass and energy is configured to provide experiences. In an age of fully automated and full distributed production, anything that is created anywhere can, within a few seconds be available as plans to anyone else anywhere on the planet, as something their machinery can produce.

          Even a gram of matter contains more possible arrangements than could possibly be explored in the remaining age of this universe.

          I am not in any way advocating stasis, quite the inverse.
          I am quite explicitly advocating infinitely expanding diversity.
          Such diversity does not require expanding amounts of either matter or energy.
          And for those who choose to remain on this planet, there will be limits on the amount of mass and energy available to express that diversity, and those limits will be the sort of limits that anyone alive now would consider a high standard of living.

          If your thing is serious engineering, plenty of mass and energy for that available off planet, which you could do either remotely by some form of tele-presence or by actually going there yourself.

  • ohminus

    Sorry, I’m seriously baffled by this post. As a molecular biologist with a minor in neurobiochemistry, it sounds a bit like a fever dream. I have the impression the author has neither really understood the “Darwinian” concept nor does he understand how modern neurosciences closely link the biological and behavioral sides.

    • No one who was educated solely in the NeoDarwinian consensus on biology or the Neoclassical consensus on economics can hope to understand what this author is talking about. What you’ve learned is basically Neoliberal ideology applied to biology.

      When you first meet heterodox genetics or economics, you are bound to experience cognitive dissonance, because you have been indoctrinated into thinking that there is only one way to interpret Darwin or Adam Smith.

      It’s hardly surprising that heterodoxy sounds like a “fever dream”. Your education has taught you that heterodoxy ought not even to exist, that the only people who dissent from orthodoxy are religious fanatics.

      You stand before an open door – whether you walk through or close it is up to you. The wide, wide world of heterodoxy beckons.

      • ohminus

        “What you’ve learned is basically Neoliberal ideology applied to biology.”

        Um, nope.

        • Oh well, that settles it then 😉

          • ohminus

            Your statement pretty much settled that you have no clue about biology.

          • When no heterodoxy is even possible in the minds of the orthodox – there is only one way to think about biology or economics – that forces the orthodox to take a rhetorical stance which denies any validity to heterodox points of view. Being an acolyte means you have no framework for entertaining or understanding dissent. Dissent can only mean ignorance of the Truth. Hence for me to dissent means “You have no clue”. That’s very much predicted by the power relations I outlined above.

            The similarity with the rhetorical strategies of monotheism are remarkable. Once one paradigm becomes hegemonic, those who hold to that paradigm become fundamentalists and often fanatics. Dissenters are seen as heretics or lunatics. All discourse outside the norms is taboo. The footsoldiers of the priesthood go around stamping out heresy.

            In fact there are and always have been heterodox views on genetics, evolution and economics which emerge from *inside* the ivory towers. I am very interested in these alternative views, both because I find them better explanations in many cases, but also because it highlights the power relations that exist in the pursuit of knowledge.

          • ohminus

            So you do not understand science in general…
            Sorry to say, but your claims are provably wrong. Science is not about whether someone dissents, but whether they have evidence.
            Nonorthodox views have been awarded the Nobel prize, your waffling is just that of a quack and fraud whining that science exists to stamp out fraud.

          • You say that my views are “provably wrong”, but you do not at any point even attempt to disprove them. You simply state that they are wrong as though that is a meaningful contribution. This is *exactly* what I was saying happens in biology and economics. You provide the perfect example of this kind of the kind of demagoguery. My hypothesis accurately predicts the behaviour of someone who is in the grip of an ideology and threatened by dissent.

            Science in action.

            However, any more of this puerile stuff and I’ll just block your account. And the next minute, I’ll have forgotten you even exist.

          • ohminus

            “You say that my views are “provably wrong”, but you do not at any point even attempt to disprove them.”

            That’s plain and simply false. I pointed out that nonorthodox researchers have been awarded the Nobel prize. As usual, where evidence contradicts your ideology, you ignore it.

            “However, any more of this puerile stuff and I’ll just block your account. And the next minute, I’ll have forgotten you even exist.”

            The puerile stuff is your attempt to redefine the world to fit to your ideology, up to blatant dishonesty. The problem is – the world doesn’t give a crap about whether you believe in it. Just because you jump off the next building disbelieving gravity doesn’t prevent the nasty splat.

            Nature doesn’t suffer fools like you lightly. Have fun earning your Darwin award.

          • BDev

            Why are ‘intellectuals’ so often inflated egoic jerks?

            Can people learn to use their brains AND their empathy at the same time? Must ugly egoic one-upmanship always dominate?

            Can intellectual curiosity co-exist with warm rapport? Or are most intellectuals that insecure in themselves that they must ‘win’ every argument?

            What happened to the sheer fun of exploration together?

    • Could you unpack that a bit.

    • Lawrence Milford

      I have neither educational credential, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night. Seriously, I have done considerable reading on evolutionary biology and neuroscience and can comfortably say the author is misunderstanding Darwinian evolution. For the lay reader such as myself I would recommend some of the recent work on Multi-Level Selection by E.O. Wilson, or maybe Peter Turchin, as a quick starting point to understand that we are BOTH competitive and co-operative in our nature.

  • Stephan Khinoy

    I’m genuinely sorry that I’m neither an economist nor an evolutionary biologist, but rather a teacher of literature (Medieval) on the one hand and a teacher of fencing on the other. (The fencing hand is my right hand.) But it seems to me that this discussion is based on gross oversimplification. Cooper’s picture of the “neoclassical view” isn’t Darwinian; it’s Hobbesian. And surely his mirror-image presentation of the RE view is equally a caricature. Finally, he fails, in this essay at least, to suggest how a more balanced might improve human outcomes.
    The result is that responders are trapped into arguing about “human nature” instead of any kind of economics, whether neoclassical or behavioral.
    One last point: I am a really cooperative, team-building sort of person most of the time. But, contra at least one poster here, I have felt exultation at beating an opponent in fencing, though unlike Achilles, I have refrained from dragging his body around the gym; and perhaps more to the point, I have felt a huge surge of adrenaline at the prospect of throwing a punch at a mentally disturbed man threatening me with a baseball bat.

    • Stephan Khinoy

      Which would have been a huge mistake in any rational assessment of likely outcomes.

    • Its a short essay. Of course it involves simplifications and generalisations. The Neoclassic consensus in economics and the NeoDarwinian view of biology are intimately linked to what we now call Neoliberalism (free markets, selfish rational agents, mechanistic models involving equilibriums, etc etc). This is clearly linked to the philosophical justifications the British Empire and Merchantilism.

      You seem to have missed the main point of the essay, which was a critique of the imbalance in the alternative views of economics and biology. The author clearly says “The debate over whether we humans are competitors or cooperators is clearly a false dichotomy – we are very clearly both.” The irony is that you obviously get this, because you state it as a kind of alternative conclusion to your reading of the situation. Your “one last point” is the author’s *main point*!

      The problem having been identified, the suggested solution is to be cautious in accepting one-sided accounts of human nature. Which seems like good advice. He’s saying, sure we do need a new narrative because the existing ideology, both in economics and in biology, but that the main alternative being offered is a bit reactionary and Romanticised.

      The penultimate sentence in the article is “Before embracing these ideas too enthusiastically it is worth stepping back and asking ourselves if the world we see around us and the stories of our history books really do accord with such a benign view of human nature.”

      The consequences of adopting a false view of humanity are stated earlier: “At worst it risks blinding us to the reality of our own nature, leaving us ill-equipped to consider the very issues with which the Rethinking Economics community is so concerned.”

      A false view of the kind that the author is critiquing leaves us ill-equipped to deal with the issue at hand. Perhaps the author also has a view on what conclusions we can come to regarding this issue, but again, this is a short essay, probably with an imposed word count and one cannot say everything one thinks in just 2000 words.

      Because both biology and economics are based on views about human nature we first have to make sure that we have an accurate view of that nature: that we are both cooperative and competitive; that we are empathetic, but also antipathetic. That people prioritise relationships differently.

  • John M Legge

    There may one author who thinks that humans are really nice and companionable but I don’t think that it a majority view in any well defined group. It isn’t “humans” who are engaged in Darwinian struggles; it is our genes. Cooperative behaviour may, in many circumstances, increase our genetic fitness; but the presence of psychopaths shows that non-cooperation can do so as well. I consider it well established by writers like Putnam from the sociological perspective and Hamilton from the Darwinian one that economic and social progress depends on limiting the opportunities for psychopaths. This is not the same as saying that everyone is lovely and cooperative.

    • I can sum up my response to your comment in two words: social primate.

      • John M Legge

        I think that there is a gap between humans and other primates, though there is a lot of continuity as well.

  • Darwin was a product of his time. Britain was an Imperial power, dominating the seas, gobbling up territory, enslaving peoples (often through indentured servitude or debt), and funnelling natural resourced back to the factories in the UK. A lot of intellectuals at the time were concerned with justification of this behaviour and evolution provided that justification. In Spencer’s terms it was survival of the fittest. Combined with Bentham hogwash about utility and the Victorian conceit that “man” was the rational animal, we got the early versions of economics.

    Other versions of evolution were outlined but always suppressed. I think for example of Lynn Margulis who championed a version of Darwinian evolution driven by symbiosis, hybridisation, cooperation, and commensalism. Margulis collaborated with Lovelock on the biological implications of the Gaia Hypothesis.

    The version of evolution that we get instead is the NeoDarwininan consensus, which can be summed up as Neoliberalism applied to biology.

    As Marx observed around the same time that On the Origins of Species was published: Capital is social.

  • Duncan Cairncross

    I found this article disjointed and wrong in some of the basics – war and murder do exist in hunter gatherer societies as has been very well documented

    To a monstrous extent compared to later and modern societies

    IMHO the current issue is less to do with competition than it has to do with the fact that we have set up our corporations to SELECT the most pathological individuals to run them

    If there are two individuals – one concentrates on “getting the job done” the other one puts his major effort into “getting promoted”
    Which one gets promoted first?

    In my 40 years in industry I have seen this pattern
    engineers/managers – most were “task focused”
    Executives and Vice Presidents – ALL were totally “me” focused

    How to fix it ? GOK

  • NicholB

    Hmm. I’m not an economist. But have been reading blogs and online postings on economics.

    This whole story has the strong feel of an unhelpful straw-man false dichotomy. Modern economics (certainly in the media and among ruling politicians) does have a strong strain of that which Keynes already argued against long ago. This has been clearly detrimental.

    It seems to me that the ‘rethinkers’ are doing what their name says:
    they are rethinking. No coherent ideology and grand unified model of
    human exchange of favors, commerce, trade, power and war has yet arisen.
    It isn’t even clear if that is the ‘plan’. To me it looks much more
    that ‘rethinkers’ are striving for ‘something that works’, rather than a
    ‘grand unified theory’ or even a ‘single narrative to understand it all’.

    The ‘rethinkers’ are those that have been chipping away at the current orthodoxy. Partly by showing that humans are not only selfish, but also by nature exhibit altruistic behavior. This is common knowledge. But ‘orthodox’ economists seem to have decided it can be ignored, like they also ignored banking. It can’t.

    The weird contradiction is that the classicals believe humans are selfish, but also that their behavior does not need to be regulated. They believe that in the fight among selfish humans something good will come out.

    On the other hand, these ‘rethinkers’, who are said to believe that humans are altruistic members of the salvation army, usually promote the idea that human interactions should be regulated if the ‘marketplace’ is to be in any way fair. They also argue for more active and forceful government.

  • Ron Greenstein

    From a discourse attributed to Meher Baba, “Playing with Illusions”: Suffering comes through ignorance or attachment to illusions. Most people play with illusions like children play with toys. If you get caught up in the ephemeral things of this world and cling to illusory values, suffering is inevitable. It is not easy for little children to give up their toys, for they become the victims of a habit which they cannot undo. In the same way, through millions of lives, you have got into the habit of playing with illusions. It is difficult for you to get disentangled from them.

    • BDev

      Ron, Now you are touching on the cause behind the causes, and that is very dicey territory. Deeper spiritual truths make many people very uncomfortable…

  • Hugo Spinoso

    Individual violence come from desire and opportunity and its been done by all types of individuals, cooperation only by necessity even if humans are empathic by nature and group oriented, as for organized warfare it is either necessity or opportunity depending on wich side you are.

    I agree that basing the economy only on the individual, has created several problems like monopoly, exploitation, overproduction and this is because of opportunity and again for necessity depending on wich side you are, still it would be impossible to be based only on empathy or group necessity as this will force the individual, and will in turn overwork some more than others.

    Regardless i belive that no social system should be based on the morality of the individual, whatever balance is required should be done as to block the person or the group from bypassing it, and the blockades should not be based on social interactions or group belonging and expectations.

  • Christopher Richard

    Poppycock. But with a little insight lost in it.

    Economics is a human behavior. That is anathema to many in the business of economics. It strips economics of it’s primary goal of becoming a real science like Physics. “Behavioral Economics” tries to grapple with that. It has had some limited success. Just as “classical economics” has had some limited success. Neither has created a model that works to predict economic activity with great success. Something acknowledged in the only joke about economics in existence: “How do you know economists are comedians? They put decimal points in their estimates”

    Human behavior is not well understood despite about 10,000 years of something approaching historical observation. Not even reproductive behavior is well understood; every possible combination of reproductive strategies – monogamy, polygyny, polygamy, polyamory, brothers marrying one wife, marriage by rape, all having sex with all – can be found somewhere on the planet or in the historical record. Agricultural behavior is equally diverse, from individual long term plots to village communes through co-operatives, with slave labor, without slave labor, strip farming, kibbitzum, state farms, and agribusiness. In both cases the diversity of behaviors reflects the ecological diversity of the planet and social constructs.

    Reducing humans to psychopaths as classical economics does (h. economicus is a psychopath without conscience or concern for others) is obviously flawed. No more than 25% of the population shows strong psychopathic traits, and only a few percent are diagnosable as psychopaths. The concept that everyone is altruistic is probably equally flawed – but that there is a strong altruistic streak in h. sapiens is undeniable. We only know about the near pre history of H. Sapiens in large part only because people do that most uneconomical of things – they bury their dead. Burying a body, especially elaborate burials, is a waste of economic resources. (The sanitary problem can be handled by scavengers in a small group,

  • Brian Gladish

    “If there is one single idea binding together the whole movement it is the belief that it is possible to organise our economy in such a way as to produce a better outcome than the one we currently have.”

    There is only one problem here–the idea that it is possible to organize our economy at all. What the “rethinkers” are doing is simply re-introducing the failed idea of central planning. That can hardly be called “rethinking.”

  • MigT

    I completely agree with the author. Assuming individual selfish maximisers, the means by which neoclassical theory posits optimal social results are easily shown to be ridiculous nonsense. You just need to wade through a bit of obscurantist jargon and maths.

    Attacking the assumption itself tends to sound like wishful thinking – even if the assumption is an oversimplification.

    Like he says, park your tanks on their lawn.

  • Patrick cardiff

    I wonder whether this logic comes apart if only a FEW are greedy, hoard money, and refuse to pass it back to the masses. Everyone does not have to be like that, and so reform measures are not indicated for everyone, rather merely the source of the problem, and it has to remain with money grubbing encouraged by politics. The reason that I buy into the idea that corporate greed, investor self-created bubbles, overcharged premiums, and Wall Street hokum are responsible for the demand sluggishness is because I see the results of capital ascendance with my own eyes. The Housing Crisis is the economy’s plight writ large. Yes, finance houses and banks, corporations, and insurance companies are greedy when they remove productive capital from circulation to the vaults where it creates measly interest, but that describes the thieves, not the victims. If you don’t think this is right, consider labor which, if really united, would not stand for it.

  • Peter Mersch

    This is a great article, I enjoyed its reading very much. The author has worked for large companies (as Eric Beinhocker did), maybe this gave him a more realistic view on evolutionary processes.

    If we label the ‘selfish competitor’ as the behavioural thesis and the ‘altruistic cooperator’ its behavioural antithesis, then the path to improving our understanding of human behaviour lies in finding the paradigm to synthesise these two world views.

    My proposal for the synthesis is: comparative competency loss prevention (see: ).

    But what is this?

    In his theory of natural selection Darwin made some assumptions about the behavior of all living systems. In Mayr, Ernst (2002): What Evolution Is. London: Phoenix, p. 128 this is explained in the following way:

    Fact 1. Every population has such high fertility that its size would increase exponentially if not constrained. (Source: Paley and Malthus)
    Fact 2. The size of populations, except for temporary annual fluctuations, remains stable over time (observed steady-state stability). (Source: universal observation)
    Fact 3. The resources available to every species are limited. (Source: observation, reinforced by Malthus)
    Inference 1. There is intense competition (struggle for existence) among the members of a species. (Source: Malthus)

    But why have living systems such a high fertility? It is competency loss prevention. Their competencies are stored in their DNA. To preserve this knowledge beyond of their death, they have to reproduce. To improve their chances to preserve the knowledge in relation to their competitors (the other individuals within the same population) they should have as much offspring as they are able to raise. This means “comparative” competency loss prevention.

    In Frank, Robert H. (2012): The Darwin Economy. Liberty, Competition and the Common Good. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press it is explained in detail, why we perceive our environment “comparatively” (p. 27f.):

    In sum, no economic model can hope to capture how markets actually function unless it begins with the assumption that context shapes evaluation in significant ways. Yet the models that underlie Adam Smith’s invisible-hand narrative assume, preposterously, that context doesn’t matter at all.
    (…) explicit recognition of the importance of context alters our understanding of how markets function. (…) adding this simple feature is the key to understanding why the invisible hand breaks down, even when consumers are fully informed and interact with employers and sellers under condition of perfect competition.
    (…) wasteful competition follows from the simple fact that evaluation depends strongly on context in many domains. That context shapes evaluation is completely uncontroversial.

    This relates even to economical concepts like poverty. In modern human societies poverty is defined as a relational concept.

    But why follows intensive competition from limited resources as Darwin assumed? And why do living systems need resources at all? The main reason for the latter is the Second Law (of thermodynamics). All living systems are (very) complex systems. Even their DNA is complex. Living systems would become unstable if there were no internal reproduction processes (e.g. metabolism). Therefore living systems have to search permanently for resources (food etc.). As living systems are competency loss preventing systems they usually will compete with each other. But this is not always the case. They could also cooperate with some individuals to better compete with others. Note: Cooperation is often an enforced method of competition.
    Normal (genetical) living systems usually have only one evolutionary relevant competency: Reproducing its genetically controlled knowledge (reproducing its genes). Modern humans usually have many evolutionary relevant competencies instead (they can support many evolutionary knowledge pools). They cooperate by specialization (by building core competencies). Eg. one person specializes as a physician, another as a medical assistant. Both cooperate to operate a doctor’s surgery. With Ricardo’s Theorem it is possible to explain, why this may be an advantage for both parties, even if the doctor is more efficient (competent) than the medical assistant in all of her tasks.

    As humans (and human corporations) are able to build core competencies, Darwinian evolutionary theory has to be enhanced amongst others by Ricardo’s theorem to apply to human societies as well.

    Another necessary enhancement is the support for property rights (disposal rights). In nature, resources are usually commons, while in human societies they are not (they usually have an owner). Therefore humans usually have to convince the current owner of a resource (eg. by trading) to get access to the resource, while in nature the resource is just taken. Convincing makes a society much more peaceful and even civilized. This was overlooked by Social Darwinism.

    Corporations like Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs are as well (comparative) competency loss preventing systems. If one competitor improves his competencies, all other’s competencies are weakened (“Every time a friend succeeds I die a little”). Therefore they usually try all to constantly improve their competencies. This produces (via the Red Queen principle) progress and growth.

  • MilkywayAndromeda

    I am willing to buy the book if the author is kind enough to ask his assistant to sending to me by mail with an autograph! In private message I can supply the details!