Evolution and Economics Ma Non Troppo.

But as Hayek argued (especially in The Fatal Conceit ), not all evolved human instincts fit ideally with life in this brand-spanking-new global, commercial society of ours (what Hayek called “the extended order” – as in an order of human relationships that extends well beyond the small groups in which the vast majority of our ancestors lived). Tribalism is always at work, threatening to shred the sinews of the modern economy that has as a centerpiece an immense division of labor that spans the globe and involves the creativity and efforts of literally billions of people, nearly all of whom are complete strangers to each other. (Note the root word in “strangers.” We are evolved to be suspicious of that which is strange.)

For reasons that remain largely mysterious to me, the liberal culture that first emerged in western Europe just a few centuries ago somehow channeled human instincts – or overrode our tribal instincts with other of our instincts – to allow peaceful and productive cooperation with an expanding number of strangers. Trade, deep specialization, production for vast markets, and peace grew. Raiding, self-sufficient communities that produced mostly for known members of one’s group, and war with outsiders became relatively less prominent.

[My emphasis]

Don Boudreaux, here.

I’m not sure it’s all that mysterious to everyone anymore (see, e.g. Peter Frost here here here and here). But no matter. I’m a layman, I make no claim to be anything other, so let’s take it as read that this is all a big mystery.

What we do know, Don and I, is that, for whatever reason, evolutionary pressures selected for those characteristics that made possible “peaceful and productive cooperation with an expanding number of strangers” and allowed “[t]rade, deep specialization, production for vast markets, and peace” to grow. And we know, furthermore, that evolutionary pressures are localised: these pro-trade characteristics, this “liberal culture” originated in “western Europe”. Now if we put these facts together it is hardly a mystery as to why certain types of human beings will not fit ideally with life in this brand-spanking-new global, commercial society of ours, and we might even be able to draw some conclusions about who it is and is not wise to admit in to a brand-spanking-new global, commercial society. But of course to actually put them together would be terribly unseemly.

Evolutionary theory… ma non troppo.

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