Arnold Kling  

Evolutionary Psychology and Economic Behavior

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Will Wilkinson writes,


What evolutionary psychology really helps us to appreciate is just what an unlikely achievement complex, liberal, market-based societies really are. It helps us to get a better grip on why relatively free and fabulously wealthy societies like ours are so rare and, possibly, so fragile. Evolutionary psychology helps us to understand that successful market liberal societies require the cultivation of certain psychological tendencies that are weak in Stone Age minds and the suppression or sublimation of other tendencies that are strong.

I recommend the entire article, which has too much to summarize here. Wilkinson cites a number of works that I have not read. I did read Paul Seabright's The Company of Strangers, and I found it disappointingly vapid. I took very little away from that book, in spite of (because of?) my overall interest in the topic.

Wilkinson also cites Leda Cosmides and John Tooby to the effect that "hunter-gatherers were involved in numerous forms of trade and exchange. Some forms of hunter-gatherer trading can involve quite complex specialization and the interaction of supply and demand."

I am afraid that I have taken the opposite position, based on a superficial reading of the literature. My impression was that hunter-gatherer exchange was not based on anything as sophisticated as market prices.

For Discussion. What papers can you point to that deal with the question of the degree of sophistication of trade among early hunter-gatherers?


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CATEGORIES: Economic Philosophy



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Randy writes:

Sorry, no papers, just a comment. I don't think it is necessary to go so far back. Benedict Spinoza said, "Desire is the very essence of man".

In my opinion, he nailed it. Desire for what? Many things, but generally speaking, the desire to make things better. Communism must suppress desire in the population in order to make real the desires of the elite. Free markets take advantage of desire to create ever more complex products and specialties. Which system is compatible with mans basic nature? They both are.

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