Was Charles Darwin the true founder of economics? Can understanding evolutionary biology lead to better tax policies and greater investment in the most productive sectors of the economy? Cornell economist Professor Robert H. Frank argues for Darwin’s foundational role.
In a wide ranging and provocative talk on Monday at Merton College, Oxford, in honour of the PUP European Advisory Board, Frank suggested that Darwin had a fundamental insight which is crucial for understanding the modern economy – that unbridled competition often leads to arms races that do harm to society.
Two members of the board gave lively responses to Frank’s talk. Economist and Financial Times columnist John Kay demonstrated how Darwin’s concept of reproductive fitness provides powerful insights lacking in both the behavioural and standard approaches to economics. Biologist Sunetra Gupta described how Frank’s analysis of arms races produced by economic competition matches the insights of evolutionary biology. If unchecked, both competitions can lead to the “grotesque” – whether the gargantuan antlers of the Irish elk which led to their extinction, or the 20,000 square foot homes of today’s investment bankers.
It was a truly exciting interdisciplinary discussion and a fitting tribute to the work of our European Advisory Board.
Publishing Director, Europe