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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.
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Chapter 9: The Human Agent in Evolutionary Economics

Jack J. Vromen


Jack J. Vromen As a matter of fact, for several questions related to long term development, Darwinian thought may even become a fruitful part of evolutionary economic theorising, not through metaphorical use, but through direct application. Humans, and the inherited parts of their behavioural dispositions (preferences), are a result of evolution on this planet. It may therefore be conjectured that the common genetic elements in human preferences which dictate some average tendencies in the agents’ endeavours could produce some ‘direction’ in the path which economic evolution takes. (Witt, 1996, p. 714) In this [of course] we recognise one of the central issues in modern evolutionary theory, namely evolution at different levels of the economy and the interaction between them. (Metcalfe, 1998, p. 5) Evolutionary economics has a long-standing and venerable tradition of withstanding theoretical presuppositions and doctrines underlying mainstream economic theory: rational individual behaviour and methodological individualism. Against the presupposition that individual agents behave perfectly rationally, evolutionary economists have always maintained that prevailing institutions shape individual behaviour. Notable examples are of course Veblen, with his emphasis on instincts and habits moulding individual behaviour and, more recently, Nelson and Winter, with their belief that behaviour is routinised to a large extent. And, relatedly, evolutionary economists have always resisted methodological individualism. Evolutionary economists have consistently argued that it is legitimate to invoke supra-individual entities in explaining social processes and phenomena. Here famous examples include Commons’s views on collective action and, once again, Nelson and Winter’s view that firms can be treated as...

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