“Evolution as a General Theoretical Framework for Economics and Public Policy”

 Special issue editors:

David Sloan Wilson

John M. Gowdy

J. Barkley Rosser


This supplementary issue of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization is based on a collaborative project between the Evolution Institute and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center that started in 2009 with a NESCent catalysis meeting titled “The Nature of Regulation: How Evolution Can Inform the Regulation of Large-scale Human Social Interactions”. The meeting led to a 2-year project on integrating economic and evolutionary theory.  This project used NESCent’s working group rubric to organize three workshops, whose participants were drawn from a larger advisory group. Other outputs of the project include a white paper submitted to the National Science Foundation and a final workshop titled “The Science-to-Narrative Chain”, which examines how to create a new public narrative based on the evolutionary paradigm.   Supplemental material can also be found at our online magazine:  This View of Life 

1)Wilson, D. S., Gowdy, J, Rosser, B. Jr. (2013). Rethinking Economics from an Evolutionary Perspective.  An Editorial

2) Wilson, D. S., & Gowdy, J. (2013). Evolution as a General Theoretical Framework for Economics and Public Policy.

Role in issue: First lead article. Describes how evolution functions as a general theoretical framework in the biological sciences and considers four reasons why evolution might not add value to the study of human-related subjects.

3) Gowdy, J., Dollimore, D., Witt, U., & Wilson, D. S. (2013). Economic Cosmology and the Evolutionary Challenge.

Role in issue: Second lead article. Describes how modern disciplines such as economics and evolution reflect ancient cosmologies and how advances in evolutionary science can help economics overcome some of its outdated assumptions. 

4) Wilson, D. S., Ostrom, E., & Cox, M. (2013). Generalizing the Core Design Principles for the Efficacy of Groups.

Role in issue: Shows how the design principles for the efficacy of common-pool resource groups, for which Ostrom received the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009, can be generalized from an evolutionary perspective and used as a practical framework for improving the efficacy of real-world groups. Also serves as a tutorial for multilevel selection theory, which plays an important role in some of the other articles.

5) Witt, U., & Schwesinger, G. (2013). Phylogenetic footprints in organizational behavior.

Role in issue: Explains modern social organizations, including firms, as a product of biocultural co-evolution. The authors have backgrounds in economics, nicely complementing the article by Stoelhorst and Richerson.

6) Stoelhorst, J. W., & Richerson, P. J. (2013). A Naturalistic Theory of Economic Organizations.

Role in issue:  Explains modern social organizations, including firms, as a product of biocultural co-evolution. The first author has a business school background and the second author is one of the major figures in cultural evolutionary theory, nicely complementing the article by Witt and Schwesinger

7) Manapat, M., Nowak, M., & Rand, D. (2003). Information, Irrationality and the Evolution of Trust.

Role in issue: Focuses on the important topic of trust and illustrates the role of analytical models in evolutionary science relevant to economics and public policy.

8) Wilson, J., Yan, L., & Hill, J. (2013). Costly information and the Evolution of Self-organization in a Small, Complex, Economy.

Role in issue: Describes a real-world application of the evolutionary perspective to an economic system and illustrates the role of computer simulation modeling from an evolutionary and complex systems perspective. 

9) Gowdy, J., Rosser, B. Jr. & Roy, L. (2013). The Evolution of Hyperbolic Discounting: Implications for Truly Social Valuation of the Future.

Role in issue: Addresses a fundamental topic in economics and public policy from an integrated ultimate and proximate evolutionary perspective.

10) DeAngelo, G., & Brosnan, S. (2013). The Importance of Risk Tolerance and Knowledge when Considering the Evolution of Inequity Responses Across the Primates.

Role in issue: Focuses on the important subject of inequity responses and illustrates the importance of cross-species comparison, which is novel for much of the economic and policy literatures.  

11) Burnham, T. (2013). Caveman Economics: Toward a neo-Darwinian Synthesis of Neoclassical and Behavioral Economics.

Role in issue: Focuses on the concept of mismatch, whereby genetic and cultural adaptations to previous environments become dysfunctional in current environments.

12) Johnson, D., Price, M., & Van Vugt, M. (2013). Darwin’s Invisible Hand: The Evolution of the Market Competition, Evolution, and the Firm.

Role in issue: Applies multilevel selection theory to the selection of behavioral and organizational practices within and among firms, reaching a different set of conclusions than standard economic views of the firm.

13) Mullins, D.A., Whitehouse, H. & Atkinson, Q. D., (2013). The Role of Writing and Record Keeping in the Cultural Evolution of Human Cooperation.

Role in issue: Takes a long-term cultural evolutionary view on the structure of human social organizations as corporate units, with implications for current and future organizations.

14) Biglan, A., & Cody, C. (2013). Integrating the Human Sciences to Evolve Effective Policies.

Role in issue: Reviews the fields of public health, prevention science and applied behavioral analysis, which have a proven ability change behavioral and cultural practices in individuals, small groups, and large populations. Also emphasizes the importance of prosociality for promoting human welfare at all scales, which stands in contrast to the individual focus of orthodox economic theory. This article is important to underscore the fact that evolution functions as a general theoretical framework for all forms of policy, not just economics.