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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 5: Keynes and Darwinism

John Laurent


John Laurent* Biological analogy has a significant place in Alfred Marshall’s economics, as shown in my earlier chapter. In his use of this kind of language Marshall makes at least some reference to Darwin. This is not a matter of dispute among historians of economic thought (see also Limoges and Menard, 1994; Schabas, 1994). But did Marshall’s most famous pupil, John Maynard Keynes, adopt his teacher’s methodology in this respect, and if so, did Keynes accept Marshall’s usage of biological language? More importantly, to what extent did Darwinism, specifically, influence Keynes’s thinking? Keynes’s ‘Organicism’ Edward McKenna and Dianne Zannoni (1997–8) have referred to what they call an ‘ongoing debate’ over whether Keynes was a ‘methodological individualist’ or an ‘organicist’, and declare that they agree with ‘those who believe that Keynes eventually came to adopt an organicist view’. Geoffrey Hodgson (1993), too, notes one or two authors who point to an ‘organicist’ style of argument in Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. An instance of the latter is Keynes’s acknowledged debt to and further development of the arguments of J.A. Hobson’s and A.F. Mummery’s The Physiology of Industry (pp. 364–71), which, as I indicated in my earlier chapter, contains much organic metaphor. Yet citations from The Physiology of Industry apart, closer inspection of The General Theory does not, in fact, reveal a great deal of usage of organic language. I have searched Keynes’s most famous volume carefully, and the nearest examples that I can find to...

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