Friday, September 18, 2009

Symbiogenesis vs. Darwinism

Economics utilizes metaphors and ways of thinking from the natural sciences. Neo-Darwinism provides convenient support for the story of the beneficent outcome of something called free market competition. Darwinism holds that adaptations occur exclusively through random mutation that sometimes produces genes with useful attributes that give the organism an advantage in competition with other organisms. This view is being challenged by the research of Lynn Margulis, who observes that complexity at the level of the cell is not the result of lethal competition, but rather symbiotic relationships between gene sets.
Prof. Margulis argues that even new species occur over time when symbiotic partners fuse. She says, “we are all walking communities of bacteria.”
Consider what an economics built on both cooperation and competition would look like. Is it coincidence that my latest book is entitled, “Conflict and Cooperation.”


paul said...

If the defense of the”free-market” is to be built upon a metaphor (always a dangerous venture) of biology, then we ought to extend the analogy to its limits. Natural selection has produced some pretty amazing results (as have markets) but natural selection has also given us H1N1, black mold, and many human behaviors that we find less than optimal (sexual violence, ravenous greed, tribal jingoism). All of these have sound evolutionary purposes in that they often secure the replication of our genes. Like natural selection, markets are efficient at promulgating their existence (individual utility maximization, the winners win). Yet, society constantly endeavors to curb those biological attributes that destabilize the general welfare, and so why would it be inappropriate to do so with a much less elegant institution on mans’ own making. There are laws against raping a thirteen year old girl regardless of whether such an act will carry on a genetic line, surely there should also be laws governing the less than cooperative behaviors exacerbated by the marketplace.

Allan Schmid said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Please consider that markets are efficient in carrying out the implications of the property rights distribution that lies behind them. Change the rights and you change what is efficient, and whose utility is maximized.
Property rights are chosen by humans and which particular efficiency dominates is not a blind mindless random result. Those that survive are the ones with the best lobby and the most political campaign contributions.

Adam T said...

I also thank you for your insight into biology. Why is it that we look for a theory or principle that explains biological evolution and the "life" of an economy? I realize it might help us understand a complex dynamic, but is the economy natural? ... maybe that is why the superior economics department is housed in the college of agriculture- and why I was drawn to it! haha. You taught me that the economy is not a living organism- it is a social construct- and that markets do not obey any natural laws... they obey the limits we impose on them.


Allan Schmid said...

Good point Paul,

Allan Schmid said...

Well said, Adam.