Innovation and Selection in Evolutionary Models of Technology: Some Definitional Issues

  • Mokyr J
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Alfred Marshall's ([1890] 1930, p. xiv) famous exhortation that the Mecca of the economist lies in economic biology rather than in economic dynamics and Frank Hahn's (1991) more recent prediction that economics will return to its affinities to biology has become something of an obsession to those who want to apply evolutionary theory to certain issues in economics.1 There is a sense that if an economic idea is to be developed in analogy with another discipline, that each element in that other discipline must find a counterpart in the economic model developed. Thus for example Ramstad (1994, p. 82) cites with approval similar criticisms made by John Commons and Edith Penrose, and adds with some exasperation Awhat is the 'organism' that is supposedly 'evolving' in this conception of economic evolution... there is no conception of the firm in the Schumpeterian framework either as genotypes or phenotypes. This being the case, resort to the natural selection metaphor ... entails even more serious problems than those already noted. In presenting my earlier work, commentators often wondered if the evolutionary theory of technological change I advocated was an analogy, a simile, a metaphor, or a purely intellectual game.

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  • Joel Mokyr

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