This is the final installment of my “Economics and Evolution as Different Paradigms” series. The series reflects what I have learned as president of the Evolution Institute, working with literally scores of people who know a lot more. A partnership with the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) has funded the effort, starting with a conference titled “The Nature of Regulation” held in November 2009 and continuing with smaller working groups that will be meeting over the next two years. The people who meet are nested within a larger advisory group that is a veritable melting pot of disciplines, in stark contrast to the aloofness of economics as a discipline in the past.
One product of this collaboration is a white paper that we just submitted to the National Science Foundation, in response to their “Dear Colleague” letter for future research in the social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) sciences. This initiative on the part of NSF signals their awareness that current economic theory is not working, requiring an influx of fresh ideas. In our white paper, we agree with their assessment but also point out the profound lack of integration among the many disciplines comprising the SBE sciences. Future research must avoid both problems, which requires speaking a common language. Evolutionary theory can provide the common language for the SBE sciences, as it is already doing in the biological sciences. The white paper has over 60 signatories, representing a community that is already speaking with a single voice.
Another product is an anthology with original essays introducing each section titled Evonomics: Evolutionary Science as a New Foundation for Economic Theory and Public Policy, which will be published by University of Chicago Press in 2012. My co-editor is Geoffrey Hodgson, one of the foremost authorities on economics in relation to evolutionary theory. Thanks to the involvement of people like Geoff, we can make an insider’s case for the paradoxical fact that evolutionary science currently plays virtually no role in current economic theory and public policy, even though economic and evolutionary theory have been entwined throughout their histories. The University of Chicago Press was eager to publish this volume, which is significant given the University of Chicago’s role in the history of economic thought.
In our ongoing discussions, we have decided to adopt a case study approach to demonstrating the advantages of the evolutionary paradigm. Abstract considerations, such as those that I have discussed in this series, have their place, but the beauty is in the details. We intend to roll up our sleeves and get to work on specific policy issues such as obesity, managing common resources, monetary systems, and the complex relationship between individual and corporate interest and the common good. In the process, we’ll document the many different ways that the evolutionary paradigm guides scientific inquiry and policy formulation, in comparison with paradigms that are not explicitly evolutionary. May the best paradigm win.