Symbiosis and Its Implications for Economics

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* Article: Towards a Reconsideration of Social Evolution: ?Symbiosis and Its Implications for Economics. John P. Watkins. Journal of Economic Issues Vol. 32, No. 1 (Mar., 1998), pp. 87-105

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"?Renewed interest among economists in naturalist Charles Darwin's theory has generated confusion regarding the meaning of social evolution. The debate between the old institutional and neoclassical economists finds a parallel in a debate that has recently emerged among biologists. Recent research in biology, however, cast doubts about the simplistic vision of evolution presented by the neo-Darwinists. The theory of symbiosis in particular makes two points. First, evolution is not always gradual. New species may arise from the merging of two or more species. Second, evolution may also result from "cooperation." The symbiotic theory focuses not on the individual organism as the unit of "selection," but on the relationships that in fact define the "individual" organism. Historians of biological science trace the origins of modern symbiosis theory to the reaction on the part of socialists and anarchists to the emergence of the market economy in the nineteenth century. For years, biologists studying symbiosis were excluded from "polite biological society." Their theories were either dismissed or met with open hostility. The "market mentality" underlying the neo-Darwinian synthesis led biologists to look for conflict."