Darwinism and Evolutionary Economics

Darwinism and Evolutionary Economics

Edited by John Laurent and John Nightingale

Darwinism and Evolutionary Economics brings together contributions from eminent authors who, building on Darwin’s own insights and on developments in evolutionary theory, offer challenging views on how economics can use evolutionary ideas effectively.

Preface

Edited by John Laurent and John Nightingale

Subjects: economics and finance, evolutionary economics

Extract

Richard R. Nelson Economic systems are complex structures, and their workings and their performance tend to change over time, in many countries progressively. Economics grew up as a discipline dedicated to describing and explaining how economies worked and developed, and achieving a firm enough grasp of the relevant phenomena and mechanisms so that economists could make a useful contribution to the major debates about economic policy. These features of the economic ontology – complexity, change and continuing policy debate – were of central interest to the early classical economists. Adam Smith’s path-breaking analysis of The Wealth of Nations is concerned with all of these. The brute facts of complexity and change mean that simple theoretical arguments will not explain economic systems very well, unless the subject matter is somehow simplified. For economists who hanker after the elegance of physics, this can be frustrating. There clearly is great attraction in a strategy that would simplify the ontology to be explained, and then devise theories to explain that simplified ontology. The Walrasian characterisation of the economy in terms of a vector of input and output quantities, and prices, is a striking example of one proposal to simplify the ontology, a proposal that modern economics has largely embraced. The explanation of a Walrasian configuration as the equilibrium outcome of the decisions made by profit and utility-maximising actors is a theoretical structure tuned to that simplified ontology. Scientific disciplines, of course, have the right within themselves to define and prune down the empirical subject matter they...