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December 23, 2008


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Andrew Lehman

The largest problem with applying economic models or models of social change to evolutionary biological models is that Darwin's theory of natural selection is still the default choice. The theory of natural selection performs poorly when applied to society. You get Social Darwinism, also called free markets. The credit unwinding and economic crash we are experiencing has a lot to do with our having an economic model, free markets, that reflects an evolutionary theory, natural selection, that does not serve well as a model of evolution. See http://www.neoteny.org/?s=society.


Hey Andrew,
I appreciate your comment. I disagree that free markets are Social Darwinist. Even Herbert Spencer made this categorical error, two-stepping between the 'is' of Darwinism and the 'ought' of Social Darwinism--i.e. the weakest "ought," somehow, to perish. Free markets are but voluntary exchanges of value -- whatever the value. Those values do include our values of benevolence and charity. My comment is more a structural/functional one--i.e. that government intervention is based on a bad machine metaphor. But, I do think there is a normative conversation to be had about individual rights, versus the purported right of elites to make large-scale economic interventions. In any case, this is a pragmatic point and social darwinism does not appear in this analogy I'm making.

Steve Horwitz

Two comments here:

1. Darwin borrowed the whole notion of competition and evolution FROM social scientists such as the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers (Hume, Smith, Ferguson et. al.). He was reading Stewart's biography of Smith on one of the Beagle's voyages. Evolutionary biology might more properly be called "Natural Smithism" than any social system being called "social darwinist." (And all of this overlooks the point that social interaction is Lamarckian not Darwinian).

2. Max: you might be interested in this blog post of mine from a couple of years back:


Maxwell Borders

Thanks, Steve: http://www.typepad.com/site/blogs/6a00e54edfd9558834010536419431970b/post/6a00e54edfd95588340105369f6664970c/edit?saved=1

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