Evolutionary Economics: Metaphor or Unifying Paradigm?

Summary of: Evolutionary Economics: Metaphor or Unifying Paradigm?

Author(s) / Editor(s)

Conventional economics cannot be simply augmented with biological or evolutionary metaphors; economic science must undergo a fundamental paradigm shift to recast the modern world in bioeconomic terms as a collective survival enterprise incorporating both cooperative and competitive strategies.

Publication Reference

Published in/by
The Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems, 18(4): 421-435


  • Survival is still a problem in the post-war era, especially considering radical changes in the human biological and cultural environment (population growth, resource depletion, globalization trends, technological advances, etc..)
  • In bioeconomic struggles for survival and reproduction, neither competition nor cooperation is the sole organizing principle; both are contingent survival strategies within the larger process of adaptation.
  • Mutually beneficial relationships are common in nature as well as business, and as a species our capacity to cooperate and establish social organizations that promote these relationships may be our strongest survival strategy.
  • We can no longer expect that self-seeking rational agents will produce social order through the invisible hand of competitive markets, let alone optimal economic solutions.
  • Human inventiveness, creativity, cumulative learning, cultural values and rituals all play important interdependent roles in evolutionary change.

The human being is not unique among the animals in having to apply limited time and energy to strategies in order to survive and reproduce. Yet modern economic theory avoids biological or psychological justifications for behavior by treating individual humans as black boxes with simple input and output. This reductionist view of economic problems neglects universal bioeconomic principles that underlie all survival enterprises. Chaos theory and modeling of non-linear dynamical systems show that economic systems display historicity: path dependency and sensitivity to past cultural and economic development. Corning lists these universal principles: that the survival problem is always contingent on the specific environment, that energy and access to information about energy are crucial to survival and reproduction, that organisms have limited time and energy to meet their needs, that competitive and cooperative strategies are both equally relevant aspects of adaptation, and that dramatic economic benefits can arise from the non-linear cooperative effects of synergies. An analytical framework under the “Interactional Paradigm” would begin with the development of explicit measures of human needs satisfaction and a reexamination of the relationship between our biological, motivational substrate and our learned and cultural behaviors.