Economic Cosmology and the Evolutionary Challenge
Our paper discusses three very old â€œcosmologiesâ€ in Western thought, how these play out in economic theory, and how evolutionary biology can help evaluate their validity and policy relevance. These cosmologies are: (1) â€œnatural manâ€ as a rational, self-sufficient, egotistical individual, (2) competition among individuals can lead to a well-functioning society, and (3) there exists an ideal optimal state of nature. These cosmologies are reflected in canonical economic theory in the form of the self-interested rational actor assumption, the invisible hand conjecture, and the belief in the existence of a general market equilibrium.
The same cosmologies are reflected in the history of evolutionary biology. Adaptation and natural selection have often been framed in terms of individual self-interest. Higher-level units such as single-species, social groups, and multi-species ecosystems have been assumed to function well, despite the self-interest of their members. And much ecological and evolutionary modeling has assumed the existence of a general equilibrium.