Economics in the Shadows of Darwin and Marx

Economics in the Shadows of Darwin and Marx

Essays on Institutional and Evolutionary Themes

Geoffrey M. Hodgson

Economics in the Shadows of Darwin and Marx examines the legacies of these two giants of thought for the social sciences in the twenty-first century.

Chapter 2: Darwin and Marx at the Crossroads

Geoffrey M. Hodgson

Subjects: economics and finance, economic psychology, evolutionary economics, history of economic thought, institutional economics


It is theory that decides what can be observed. Albert Einstein 2.1 INTRODUCTION A massive 1934 mural by Diego Rivera in Mexico City is entitled ‘Man at the Crossroads’. To the colourful right of the picture are Diego’s chosen symbols of liberation, including Karl Marx, Vladimir Illych Lenin, Leon Trotsky, several young female athletes and the massed proletariat. To the greyer left of the mural are sinister battalions of marching gas-masked soldiers, the ancient statue of a fearsome god and the seated figure of a bearded Charles Darwin. These conceptions of good and evil, progress and regress, and light and shade, were prominent in much of Western social science for the next fifty years.1 In 1999 the British Broadcasting Corporation asked their radio listeners to name the greatest men and women of the millennium. Ten years after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and eight years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Marx topped the poll. Einstein, Newton and Darwin followed in that order. Among these, Darwin and Marx stand out as the supreme theorists of structural change in complex living systems. They tried to understand the operative forces and processes of development in life and in human society, and both had a huge influence on our ideas.2 However, Marx is often neglected for ideological reasons and the contribution of Darwin is typically regarded as confined to biology. Even among ‘evolutionary economists’ the application of Darwinian ideas to the social sciences remains controversial. Only a tiny minority of sociologists...

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