Evolutionary psychology, evolutionary economics, and reasons to persevere
A few evolutionary psychologists have gone off the rails of late – one of my favourite bloggers has taken to calling them “evo-psychos.” So I got a giggle out of this send-up of bad evolutionary psychology and the gullible reporters who breathlessly relay it: “Belief in Evolutionary Psychology May Be Hardwired, Study Says.”
We shouldn’t let a few psychologists turn us off the rest of evolutionary thought though, especially when some of it is happening within economics. I’ve been meaning to pick up Michael Shermer‘s recent The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics.
It was reviewed in The Globe and Mail recently (gated) by Richard Parker, whose own most recent book, about John Kenneth Galbraith, I’ve been enjoying. In fact, it’s possible that the review is better than the book. (Quick tip: the review is gated now, but if you hit Google’s “cached” button, you’ll find the full version for another day or so.) First, there’s a depressing observation:
So many economics schools have fallen flat, so many economic predictions have proved wrong, so many economic policy prescriptions have produced disastrous consequences, that these days economics is a discipline under siege. So demoralized are economists themselves that nearly two-thirds, according to an American Economic Association survey, have decided that their profession is completely “over-mathematicized and unrelated to the real world.”
But then Parker reminds us why we should care about economics anyway:
The answer, as you surely must understand, is that their theories are as central to our world, for better and worse, as theology was to the Middle Ages. Their policy conclusions end up framing some of the biggest issues of our times, even when their models and arguments seem as esoteric as counting angels on the head of a pin. Globalization. Trade deficits. Budget deficits. Wages. Poverty. CEO pay. The unions. Inequality. Taxes. Energy policy. Health care. Inflation. Recession. Privatization. Deregulation. When economics is done badly, we’re all at risk of becoming its victims; when it’s done well, the promise is that we’ll share in its reward.