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Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Trade is to Culture as Sex is to Biology"

That's a quote from an article by Matt Ridley in this morning's Wall Street Journal summarizing new theories about why human culture began to dominate (evolutionarily speaking) when it did.  This should get the free market people pretty aroused.  The theory attempts to deal with evidence that individual and small group capabilities existed before before and after the culture and technology explosion that began in Africa about 45,000 years ago.  The thesis is that this change required "collective intelligence," the plausible conjecture that innovation occurs when ideas cross-fertilize, and that such cross-fertilization is more likely when people were or are "swapping things and thoughts" (per Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute).

I'm not sure if it's a point to make in opposition to this, or if the two concepts can be harmonized (I think they can), but Josh Wright at Truth on the Market this morning gave a thumbs up to a new book by Peter Klein exploring the Austrian school of economics approach to enterpreneurship and innovation.  Not surprisingly, this view emphasizes the individual and not the collective kind of intelligence necessary to make entrepreneurial or innovative judgments:

Why can't a central planning board mimic the operations of entrepreneurs? The key for Mises is that entrepreneurial appraisement is not a mechanical process of computing expected values using known probabilities, but a kind of Verstehen that cannot be formally modeled using decision theory.

Indeed, I do think these two views are consistent, and I will be talking about it at Law & Society on Friday morning (8:15 a.m., ugh) so feel free to stop by!

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on May 22, 2010 at 08:41 AM in Intellectual Property | Permalink


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The two views are consistent. Under evolutionary biology theory, individual genes are only interested in their own survival. However, genes that cooperate have a greater chance of survival (reciprocal altruism). Thus, selfish individuals (entrepreneurs) cooperate to produce more than they could by themselves ("collective intelligence"). In other words, selfishness leads to cooperation and collective intelligence because cooperation improves survival chances. See sfruehwald.com

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | May 22, 2010 11:15:10 AM

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