The Origin of Wealth: The Radical Remaking of Economics and What It Means for Business and Society. book. Eric D. Beinhocker. Save; Share. The Origin of Wealth. Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics. Eric D. Beinhocker. Guo BAI – Mars Majeure Alternative . A review of Eric Beinhocker’s book The Origin of Wealth. Exploring new economic models for evolutionary biology beyond Darwin’s use.

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In The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of EconomicsEric Beinhocker argues that the economy should be studied as a complex adaptive system made up of adaptive agents, with the economy emerging from the interactions of those agents.

It is an excellent book and possibly the best discussion of why the economy should be studied as a complex adaptive system, but as for other explorations of this area, it does not take the step of bringing complexity economics to life as an applied science.

Complex adaptive systems are open, dynamic and modelled individually, with waelth outcomes reflective of microeconomic behaviour. The units of selection — which for Beinhocker are the modules of business plans — undergo an evolutionary process of differentiation, selection and amplification.

This naturally leads to observations about the importance of path dependence in outcomes, the possibility of markets failing, the existence of bubbles and so on. It is interesting, but it is also a sign of a field struggling to gain traction when the same examples are wheeled out repeatedly.

Beinhocker generally stays at Stage 2 of the stages of evolutionary economicswhereby evolutionary biology is not directly incorporated into the analysis. At times, this results in some laboured explanations. For example, in attempting to find the appropriate unit of selection, Beinhocker argues that the definition of a gene is fuzzy and changes depending on whether it is undergoing selection. By attempting to cast uncertainty over the biology, the difficulty in defining the units of selection in the economy might seem less so.

This results in a shift from survival selection to what Beinhocker calls social selection. Technologies in Big Man economies spread with the survival of their carriers, but now that link is divorced. However, this has not changed to the extent that Beinhocker suggests. Human genes are still under selection, regardless of the form of economic system, although the favoured traits may vary.


Survival and reproduction still matter, and the transmission of technologies and ideas remain linked to this. An approach that ignores biological motivations also provides limited insight into the formation of the Big Man or market economies.

They too are endogenous to the biological actors. At times Beinhocker heads towards a stronger evolutionary basis, such as in his suggestion that evolutionary psychology should be used to understand human preferences.

The Radical Remaking of Economics – Evonomics

However, this ultimately short-changes what evolution can offer. Beinhocker notes its central role when he writes:. Economic wealth and biological wealth are thermodynamically the same sort of phenomena, and not just metaphorically.

Both are systems of locally low entropy, patterns of order that evolved beinhpcker time under the constraint of fitness functions. Both are forms of fit order. And the fitness function of the economy — our tastes and preferences — is fundamentally linked to the fitness function of the biological world — the replication of genes.

The economy is ultimately a genetic replication strategy. The book closes with a discussion of what the lessons are from a complexity framework. Beinhocker warns at the beginning of the book that he does not give concrete answers, but he does offer suggestions. Beinhocker encourages experimentation within companies, with greater tolerance for failure and appropriate feedback mechanisms to tell the business when it is time to drop a particular strategy.

Jason Collins blog

Unfortunately, Beinhocker then turns to a discussion of whether weaoth should pursue narrow shareholder value or long-term growth, at which point wealtb argument becomes weak. Beinhocker also claims to overcome the left-right continuum through his complexity approach, which acknowledges the emergent and useful behaviour of markets but the possibility of market failure.

However, after making this claim, he then suggests a group of policy prescriptions that place him on the continuum and that are only weakly derived the complexity approach that forms the bulk of the book.


For example, he adopts arguments concerning the lack of intergenerational mobility in the United States and the importance of parental influences on children, despite ot dearth of any evidence for parental influence, yet he fails to mention the argument about path dependence provided by complexity theory nor the implications of heritable traits. Instead, he falls back on Rawlsian arguments for justice.

One interesting observation by Beinhocker is his description of the role of government as a fitness function shaper.

Beinhocker’s The Origin of Wealth | Jason Collins blog

By introducing market based regulations such as an emissions trading schemegovernment shapes the landscape of what strategies wealtg have highest fitness, without prescribing which particular strategies should be used.

In such a case, it is not clear that the change in landscape will be efficiency destroying, beiinhocker Beinhocker does note the potential for what Hayek would term the fatal conceit. Beinhocker suggests it takes some time for changes in frameworks to be absorbed. There is no sign of change coming for complexity economics yet. This is bbeinhocker great review thank you. Sharper and pithier might have helped as well as he labours the point sometimes. My partners and I are launching a new online magazine that takes ideas from complexity and evolution and applies them to the real world both as theoretical critiques and for real-time events where practical applications are profoundly needed.

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Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. Beinhocker notes its central role when he writes: Our website is at Beinhocier. Comments welcome Cancel reply Enter your comment here Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Email required Address never made public.