Edited by John Laurent and John Nightingale
Chapter 2: Darwin, Economics and Contemporary Economists
John Laurent In an interesting paper a couple of years ago, University of New South Wales economist Geoff Fishburn (1995) argued that Alfred Marshall’s predecessor in the Cambridge Chair of Political Economy, Henry Fawcett, was not only an early supporter of Charles Darwin following publication of The Origin of Species, but also that Fawcett was helpful to Darwin in reassuring the latter of the soundness of his scientific methodology.1 This small episode points to the close, if not always comfortable, association that economics and Darwinian theory have had since the very formation of Darwin’s theory. Indeed, this association can be seen well before that date, if one takes into account the intellectual climate in which Darwin developed his ideas (Schweber, 1980; Desmond and Moore, 1991). Paradoxically, very few economists now seem to know anything about Darwin or his writings. Evolution, on the other hand, is a term much bandied about by economists; indeed there is a whole branch of present day economics calling itself ‘evolutionary economics’, and there is a journal with that name. At least two books with the title Evolutionary Economics have been published (Boulding, 1981; Witt, 1993), and several other economics texts with ‘evolution’ or related words in their titles are currently in print (e.g. Reijnders, 1997; Magnusson and Ottosson, 1997; Hodgson, 1998c). One seeks with difficulty, however, for economics titles with the words ‘Darwin’ or ‘Darwinism’ in them, notwithstanding the common use of ‘Darwinian’ or similar words in everyday economic discourse (a computer search of the...
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