Geoeconomics in relation to evolutionary theory
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In this chapter we define a place and scope for the study of geoeconomics. We have previously offered a number of definitions. Here we explore some of the major issues and concepts relevant for the study: the power dimension, systems of lies, its inter- and trans-disciplinary nature, its relationship with evolutionary theory, and differences from both neoclassical empiricism and relativism. The main purpose of this chapter is to show how geoeconomics can be founded in an evolutionary approach by offering an analysis of the development of the study of economics.
There cannot be any politics without political realism, and economic issues lie at the core of politics. Wirtschafts geopolitik is considered a branch of Internationale Geopolitik; see Maull (1936: 33). Richard Henning in the Foreword to the first edition of his Geopolitik (Henning 1928) wrote: “From now on no-one ought to be allowed to be active in foreign affairs unless he can claim a solid mastery of geographical, historical, and worldeconomic (weltwirtschaftlich) knowledge”.
The person, company, or nation which possesses economic wealth has resources, and resources are power; where power is defined as the ability to control the actions of others, thus increasing one’s own opportunities for creation of further and future wealth. We find this notion in Klare’s understanding of geopolitics as the study of “the contention between great powers and aspiring great powers for control over territory, resources, and important geographical positions, such as ports and harbors, canals, river systems (fresh water supply), oases, and other sources of wealth and influence” (Klare 2003: 51; see also Klare 2001). The study of geopolitics accounts for some of the more valuable contributions to political realism.
Geoeconomics shares the same conviction but differs in its perspective, as it argues that the development is being driven forward by another player, not so much by the nation state as by international and multinational companies for control over strategic global resources. It is a continuation of the doctrine of national competitive advantage but by other means. It is the gradual substitution of competitive knowledge and trade for arms and diplomacy. This phenomenon could be said to have started with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 (cf. e.g. Castro 2000: 201–21). That was also the time when the term “geoeconomics” showed up in the works of the American military strategist Edward Luttwak (Luttwak 1993), who had some influence on the Clinton administration’s foreign policy.
While geopolitics is the single largest body of literature under the intelligence umbrella, as yet little has been published under the heading of geoeconomics. Current contributions are most numerous in France. The term “geo-economics” or “geoeconomics” shows up in French as geoeconomie. Other terms frequently used in a similar connexion are la guerre economique and intelligence economique, that is, in English, “economic warfare” and “economic intelligence” or “competitive intelligence”. It would make things clearer if there were a more consistent distinction between “economic intelligence”, as the perspective of the State, and “competitive intelligence”, as that of the private-sector organization, but as always it is the practical use of a term that shapes theory. Thus intelligence economique is understood fairly broadly and now includes a whole range of intelligence tasks, both private and public.
The reason for French dominance in this field is partly historical: geopolitics never really disappeared from French universities even when it was taboo. But it is probably also due to the admiration for and interest in the art of syntheses, which is so apparent in French intellectual and academic life. The topic of geopolitique has always been appreciated in political and military circles.
The revival of geopolitics in the form of geoeconomics was a good fit to growing French scepticism about what was increasingly seen as American political and economic aggression in the 1980s and 1990s. At the same time it is too simplistic to call geoeconomics a French phenomenon, and wrong to think of it as a fashion. It isboth universal and permanent, following the tradition of real political thinking. Its home is not France, but the world; its oldest written traces are Chinese and Indian.
In the English-language literature “geopolitics” and “geoeconomics” are often even today used in connexion with a single topic, the world distribution of “black gold”, that is oil. In the French literature and tradition there has been a tendency to understand geoeconomics as “economic warfare”. There was a debate in France in the late 1990s about whether or not the newly-intensified competition which has accompanied globalization was a natural consequence and an aspect of general economic behaviour as defined by the laws of economics, or was the product of false competition and government intervention, justifying the use of the term “war”. Several authors concluded at the time that “economic warfare” was a reality. See e.g. Harbulot and Pichot-Duclos (1996). This is a potentially dangerous metaphor.88 “Warfare” means armed
conflict that involves killing. It is true that keen commercial competition can lead to use of less acceptable techniques, like bribery or even forms of extortion, but very rarely do private-sector organizations or the organs of government which support them resort to violence. The use of violence for business purposes is still almost exclusively confined to pariah States and “organized crime”. The Mafia is by definition an organization which has found a niche relating to goods and services that the State has outlawed.89 In other words, the Mafia must engage in violence to survive and prosper. States have not been entirely innocent of this.
Some nation states have been known to use force to acquire new markets. We have seen such behaviour more than once since the Second World War, primarily from the USA, but also from the former Soviet Union and later from Russia, and from France, Serbia, Israel, and Iraq, just to mention the chief examples. These States have used their armed forces to secure their financial interests abroad. The danger in using the term “war” in relation to business is that it implies something about what techniques are acceptable in economic competition. It is one thing to expect and plan for the possibility of foul play, another thing to encourage its use by failing to distinguish clearly between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour from the start.
Violence and threats of violence in an open economy tend to lead companies into a spiral of attacks and counterattacks that is seldom good for business in the long run. These practices have a tendency to catch up with their perpetrators. For example, oil companies with a presence in Nigeria expect and prepare for violent attacks, but they do not use similar means to defend themselves. For one thing, violence or dirty tricks often have unpredictable consequences.
Business practices in developing countries can be rough. Because most developed countries have well-established economies their markets are relatively mature and saturated, making them more difficult for outsiders or newcomers to penetrate and conquer. For this reason, new markets in developing countries are often more tempting, even though they can be risky. Newly-founded countries and countries that have gone through a period of heavy turbulence constitute a special opportunity. T
hese markets are up for grabs, so to speak. This is still the situation with most markets bordering on what was the Soviet Union. In Europe the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina has mutated from a political struggle into an economic struggle or competition (Erol 2005). Companies from major nations like the USA, Germany, Austria, Italy, Britain, and Japan are competing for market share in a whole range of consumer markets.
The chief direct investors in Bosnia-Herzegovina over the past decade have been Croatia, Lithuania, Austria, Slovenia, Germany, the Netherlands, Kuwait (a fellow Muslim country), and Serbia-Montenegro (op. cit.: 6). Access to these markets typically goes through “foreign aid” programmes, which, as Russia under Putin has suspected, are often disguised forms of government support for exports, a comfortable way of opening up a new market. For the USA it has been USAID (US Agency for International Development), investing primarily in tourism, timber, and agriculture. It is a four-step plan:
First you send in the doctors and the nurses, then the businesspeople, then you arrange for the locals to start a revolution, and then you send in the army.
It looked as though that was how things were going to go in the Ukraine and particularly in Georgia.90 Both revolutions (the orange and the rose) started very much as philanthropic projects supported by the American businessman George Soros. By showing force in Georgia Russia wanted to send a clear signal: that they will not accept military interference within their sphere of interest. Thus mastering markets that border on Russia is a delicate balance between political and economic considerations.
Elsewhere, governments will be co-operative and will feel secure enough to deal with the multinationals directly. This is not the case for a number of countries bordering on Russia. Here multinationals risk encountering various mafia groups, some of which may or may not represent their government. Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan are probably the clearest examples. But the same holds to some extent for Kazakhstan and the Ukraine.
Ever since the end of the Cold War, geoeconomics as a national strategy has gradually become more relevant than geopolitics. The former is a strategy based on trade rather than on military and diplomatic interventions. Power has gradually shifted from nation states to private-sector companies, to the point where we can now expect that the 21st century will be a century of geoeconomics (cf. Luttwak 1993). In the next section we shall ask how we are to understand this new phenomenon, this shift in paradigms. How do we account for it from a scientific methodological perspective? I shall suggest an answer based on an organic view of the social sciences, and thus of social behaviour.
The organic view of social behaviour
The organic view says in essence that we human beings are not so much in control of our behaviour as we think we are. We are predominantly emotional and not particularly rational creatures. We learn not by theory, but by trial and error, that is through failures. Consequently we should seek to understand human behaviour by personal experience and by studying values, which are the basis of character-formation, rather than by losing ourselves in the uncharted waste of abstract theories. The latter may be intellectually interesting, but do us little practical good.
All living organisms are nowadays studied in the light of evolutionary theory, except for Man. We have to ask why. Why should the social sciences be any different from zoology in this respect, unless we hold that Man stands outside biology?
If we do hold that, as some Christians do by advocating creationism, then at least we are being consistent; but that is not the position of the social sciences today. Yet these sciences continue to define themselves as not part of biology. The intention here was good: this line was taken partly in order to emphasize that Man has moral obligations. But a problem arises when the morality and values assumed are ones which belong to and favour one particular civilization or viewpoint.
Then we are facing not morality but moralism, the attempt of one person or culture to impose its values on others. We see this today in the struggle between Western and Eastern values. In the light of claims about value-neutrality of the social sciences, it is problematic that most social-science journals support Western values. The validity of Western values must be questioned, if the social sciences are to have any credibility in the 21st century. Or alternatively, the study of human behaviour must revert to the humanities, where moral positions are less problematic.
It is no more than a century ago that we eliminated the moral component from the study of economics. At the beginning of the twentieth century, but particularly after the Second World War, the discipline of economics decided to assimilate itself to physics and its logic of “dead material” (non-organic). The original motive for this was that physics was and is a successful science, and the social sciences needed greater rigour. It was also seen as a way to solve the normative problem, by literally taking the moral component out of the equation. Furthermore, it was an inevitable consequence of splitting the discipline of political economy into two instrumental parts, political science versus economics and, later, management.
Over the past two decades, there has been criticism of this approach, and of the lack of results produced by ever greater specialization. Over specialization seems to have shifted much of our research away from reality and towards obscurity, abstraction, and dogma. The phenomenon of interdisciplinary studies can be seen as a reaction against this development; so we saw a significant growth of interest in interdisciplinary scholarship around the turn of the 21st century. But this only solved parts of the problem.
Another characteristic of twentieth-century social-science research and methodology was a tendency towards linear thinking. Everything in economics seemed to be explainable in terms of the intersection of straight lines on x and y axes. Our linear way of thinking – as opposed to the cyclical ideas of Ferdinand Tonnies (1887) and the pendulum ideas of Hegel (1820), his thesis, antithesis, and synthesis – can be traced back to the Old Testament and the introduction of Christianity to Europe. The notion was reinforced in the period we call the Enlightment. The linear paradigm peaked with the contempt for the historical method on the part of the social sciences following the Second World War. That is the direction that is now being questioned. We must question not only the lack of useful results, but equally the claim of objectivity. So what are the alternatives?
The discipline of geoeconomics is founded on an organic understanding of social behaviour. This is also a method borrowed from the natural sciences too, but from the discipline of biology. By “organic” we mean that Man and human organizations function rather like living organisms. They too are brought into life, grow, and fade away, some sooner than others. Evolutionary theory is a powerful explanatory tool for any science, including the social sciences. That does not mean that all social behaviour can be understood by studying evolutionary theory, but this is the model with greatest explanatory strength and most potential.
If it is the best choice, it may seem surprising that this line of thinking is not novel within economics. Evolutionary thinking got off to a good start in the discipline of economics in the USA with Thorstein Veblen in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. But economists chose to abandon evolutionary theory at the turn of the twentieth century, in part because it did not correspond to our political convictions about how Man should think about himself and society.
The new slogan of the time was liberalism, individualism, and free choice – ideas that had been seriously challenged by evolutionary thinking, which had a relatively deterministic perspective on human life. The newly liberated discipline saw that as infringing on our ability to think of ourselves as free individuals with almost unlimited choices. Furthermore, a new world power needed to make a break with the existing scientific tradition, especially to the extent that it was associated with German thinking. The change of scientific paradigm corresponded in time to the rise of the American Empire and continuation of English-speaking world dominance under new leadership. Thus, although the original thought underlying the new empiricist paradigm was largely European (Austrian, French, British), its development was mostly American.
The organic view of social behaviour in fact goes back far further than the nineteenth century. A Venetian ambassador to France once said “States are like men in that their vigour and prosperity does not last forever; they mature, they grow old, they succumb” (quoted in Ross and McLaughlin 1981: 305). The Venetian diplomatic corps wrote some of the finest geopolitical analyses of all time, and their city’s dominance lasted for more than three centuries. The methodological focus was not on algebra, 3×3 matrices, and Cartesian co-ordinates, such as we see so often in the social sciences today, but much broader. It covered observations on national character, ways of life, natural resources, and military strength and tactics.
This methodological tradition later spread to Rome and to the Catholic Church. We find it, for instance, in the writings of Olaus Magnus, Archbishop of Uppsala, who in 1555 published an extensive book on the history of the Nordic people (Magnus 1982). Olaus Magnus was archbishop in name only. The Swedish King Gustav Vasa, who introduced Protestantism to Sweden, forced both Olaus Magnus and his brother, Archbishop Johannes Magnus, into exile. Olaus Magnus settled in Rome, where he set up his own printing house. He died two years after publishing his book. The methodology was representative for the time; readers wanted books to give clear answers to real problems. A modernstyle empirical article would probably have provoked outright laughter – “How long did you live there? Where did you travel? Do you speak the language? You mean to say you know because you questioned 250 people at a supermarket?”
Even if you put half a dozen of these research articles together it can still be difficult to say anything specific about a given social problem. Often it will be more useful to read a good magazine, like the Economist or some Quarterly Review.
Consequently companies often complain that they get too little value from modern social-science research. If businessschool academics largely ignore this critique that is largely because they are safe to do so: it does not threaten them. They are responsible not to the world of real-life business but to a promotion system which is based on the type of research that businesspeople are complaining about. So companies often look for the social data they need among other sources, by piecing together gleanings from geography (maps), history, and current events.
Evolutionary theory versus environmental adaptation
In order to apply evolutionary theory to the social sciences we need to distinguish between a number of different issues. One problem is that people mean different things by the word “evolution”. The term is often used to refer to the fact that all living organisms are linked by descent from a common ancestor. Alternatively, it is sometimes used to refer to ideas about how the first living organisms appeared; that might instead be called “abiogenesis”. We also use “evolution” when we really mean natural selection, which is just one of the many mechanisms of evolution.
Francois Perroux (1983: 23) defines evolution as “changes that are interlinked, as opposed to a ‘random’ succession of events and structures occurring in irreversible and historical time”. These changes are what we may call genotypic changes. In a strict sense then, non-heritable changes are not part of what we call evolution. Instead we may call them environmental adaptations. To many social scientists it seems that environmental adaptation is more relevant than evolution to their own subjects.
Evolutionary theory is relevant chiefly to the natural scientist, who studies behaviour over generations. Not even the long-term business cycles of Schumpeter and the Kiel School bear much relation to evolution. What seems to be most relevant for evolutionary economists is therefore Man’s phenotype, where phenotype is defined as the morphological, physiological, biochemical, behavioural, and other properties exhibited by a living organism. An organism’s phenotype is determined by its genes and its environment.
At the cultural level mutation is not uninteresting to economists either: Chinese and Pakistanis are at least two mutations apart, Europeans and Africans perhaps as many as six or more. There are particularly many mutational differences within the African continent as this is where Homo sapiens first evolved.94We need to consider what role, if any, these particular genetic differences have for economic behaviour. As a comparison, modern neuroscience is showing a genetic basis for behavioural differences between the sexes: for instance, females communicate more sensitively than males.
Then there is the variable of change. We acquire new customers, develop and buy new computers, and communicate with one another using new tools and behaviour. We must distinguish between those changes which are “evolutionary” and those which are not. Evolution in biology refers to (i) “the biological process in which inherited traits become more or less common in a population over successive generations”, recognizing that (ii) “Over time, this process can lead to speciation, the development of new species from existing ones” (Wikipedia article on “evolution”). Under (i), we need to discover whether, say, a travelling salesman’s son becomes better at selling, whether younger people today are able to use computers more efficiently than older
people, and to what extent the content of our communication and way of communicating are changing with each new generation. Under (ii), we need to discover how rapidly these inherited changes occur. What biologists disagree about is not whether these changes occur, but whether they are continual or happen in occasional bursts (so-called punctuated equilibrium, advocated for instance by Stephen Jay Gould).
The extreme case of change, in which an animal’s lineage diverges into separate species, seems to have little relevance for the study of economics, for the foreseeable future at least (ii above). What cannot be ignored by economists is the modification of “inherited traits” (i). What we need to discover is whether these changes have any implications for our economic models, and how significant they are. In other words, we need to ask what are inherited traits and what are explanatory factors to be accounted for in economic theory?
It should be possible to begin coming up with answers to these questions soon thanks to the advance of genetic research. Without ever forgetting the contribution attributable to Man’s free will, we should be able to explain how a given individual will behave, based on his or her genome together with what we know about how he or she has acted in the past (habit). This is the project for the real social sciences. When we achieve this we are starting a real scientific study of Man, not before.
For evolution to continue, there must be mechanisms to create or increase genetic variation, and mechanisms to decrease it. The mechanisms of evolution are mutation, natural selection, genetic drift, recombination, and gene flow. These can be grouped into two classes: those that decrease genetic variation and those that increase it. We can treat the physical properties of the world as constants. Human behaviour is changing. It is Man’s appreciation of how the physical properties can be exploited which evolves. Then there are the other limitations as to Man’s action related to his resources; the material, capital and what man is capable of doing.
What are then the fundamental building-blocks of evolutionary economics? From a materialist perspective these could be material, capital, people, and actions. By acting on material mankind initiates an evolution which is proper to his species. Since mankind has chosen not to share material in common, but to control it through the institution of private property, capital is another building-block. Capital and private property are products of political law. Other man-made limitations include social rules and ethics, whether these are causes or effects.
The first question is why Man acts as he does? The answer will tell us what kind of actions to expect, which will help us foresee the direction of our evolution. When facing a decision, man participates in the process as a whole being; his interests are not only economic, but aesthetic, sexual, and humanitarian. These other interests cannot be assumed away if we are to understand the underlying causes or motives for human action and to suggest realistic answers.
Or, as Veblen (1899: 10) puts it: “Changes in the material facts breed further change only through the human factor. It is in the human material that the continuity of development is to be looked for; and it is here, therefore, that the motor forces of the process of economic development must be studied if they are to be studied in action at all”. This is a materialist approach, without necessarily being a Marxist one.
We appreciate the complexity of the task when we consider that we must list all the possible motives for action Man can have, and decide which motives are strongest for each set of possible actions. We would need to do this for all human beings and all their economic actions every day. And it will be difficult to decide which actions are economic and which are not, since an economic action may be caused by a non-economic action. Unless we can achieve this, which at this point seems well-nigh impossible, we will not achieve complete certainty about our evolution.
The question then becomes, how accurate an estimate can we make of a person’s, a company’s, or a nation’s evolution, based on what we can observe? And will it be accurate enough to be worth our undertaking? We can always describe economic actions in terms of basic principles of evolutionary science and make them serve as examples without pretending that they have predictive capabilities, in much the same way as case-studies are written today: as descriptive data that resemble real life. One thing is clear: the better the knowledge we have about a subject’s actions, the greater the likelihood of getting accurate predictions. It will not do to sit at a desk and draw general conclusions from small data-sets. This is a major difference from the mechanistic approach, whose advocates believe that useful conclusions can be drawn from mathematical reasoning once a number of limited variables are found and defined. The major problem here is that they are way too few to be of much value.
The natural sciences nowadays are concerned with “dynamic” relations and series. Unlike chemistry, which was able to move away from its taxonomic stage and develop into a modern science, economics ignored new developments in the study of biology and chemistry and clung instead to the idea of natural rights, with its roots in the writings of the eighteenthcentury French physiocrats, men such as Quesnay, Baudeau, Le Trosne, and Mirabeau, but also Condorcet, Gournay, and Turgot (cf. Veblen 1899: 2).
These men laid the groundwork for the British development of economics, which evolved into the Lausanne school with its refinement of the mechanistic programme as applied to economics, and that in turn led to the blossoming of the new approach in the USA with the neoclassical school, first of all the Chicago school of economics, setting so the standard and the definition of what the Nobel Prize in economics should reward.
It may be that the marginalist school will fade away as the American empire declines, or because the number of remaining marginalists drops below some critical mass, rather than as a consequence of the persuasiveness of evolutionary arguments. Others would argue that the marginalist school will wither when other schools can make better predictions about economic behaviour. And these possibilities are not exclusive.
This is a constructivist perspective on social-science paradigms. Identifying the limitations of the marginalist approach, criticizing its assumptions, in a word “deconstructing” it, is only a first step, and will not be enough to make evolutionary economics a real alternative. Besides, many marginalists would agree with their critics to an extent: “our approach is an over generalization of reality, but it is the only way we know to develop an economic science”. If evolutionary economists want to offer an alternative, they must develop an alternative method which yields answers to real-life problems.
The deconstructionist critic argues that marginalist economics typically assumes perfect competition, meaning that all parties have equal ability to compete. This assumption is refuted by what is called the Matthew principle, from the words of the evangelist: “for whosoever hath, to him shall be given”, implying that it is easier for the rich to accumulate than the poor (Boulding 1981: 75).
This is relevant to evolutionary economics since economic development is almost bound to increase inequality, particularly in its early stages (op. cit.: 77). The great evolutionary development of the last two hundred years has undoubtedly increased world inequality (loc. cit.), even though more people are enjoying a higher standard of living. These facts in themselves will put further pressure on the marginalist school.
The activity is itself the substantial fact of the process, and the desires under whose guidance the action takes place are circumstances of temperament which determine the specific direction in which the activity will unfold itself in the given case. … The economic life history of the individual is a cumulative process of adaptation of means to ends that cumulatively change as the process goes on, both the agent and his environment being at any point the outcome of the last process. His methods of life today are enforced upon him by his habits of life carried over from yesterday and by the circumstances left as the mechanical residue of life of yesterday. (Boulding 1981: 75–7)
In mainstream economic theory these forces are assumed away. Another important assumption in marginalist economics is the maximization of gain. In reality, do we try to maximize gain, or to minimize the fear of loss? Do we compete against all alike, or less against certain groups, family, and neighbours? Marginalist economics also assumes free choice. This is questioned by a number of physicists and neurobiologists. Research by Angela Sirigu showed that experimental subjects formed a conscious intention to perform an action only slightly after they had in fact started to perform it. If that is true, it puts the whole of rational choice literature into question.
Possibly the most convincing argument for an evolutionary approach in the social sciences was propounded by the Russian scientist Petr Kropotkin. Kropotkin (1902: vii–x) observed two aspects of human life which may help to explain behaviour. One was the extreme severity of the struggle for existence, and the great loss of life when food is scarce (the law of Mutual Struggle).
The other was the fact that bitter struggle for the means of existence fails to occur among animals of the same species (the law of Mutual Aid). When food was plentiful he observed the phenomena of mutual aid and mutual support. Thus individuals who enter the market economy from a situation of mutual struggle are often more motivated to work and succeed.
The concept of struggle for existence as a factor in evolution was introduced by Darwin and Wallace. The idea of the law of Mutual Aid was suggested by Kropotkin’s professor at the university in St Petersburg, Karl Kessler, who was also dean of the university. Kropotkin essentially took up Kessler’s side as and proved both of them empirically.
When Man has more than enough money to live he sets out to help his fellow man. This observation speaks against the assumption of constant competition, but fits well with observations of billionaires’ behaviour, for instance in the USA recently, at least on the face of things. Bill Gates and Warren Beatty, like Rockefeller and Carnegie before them, have decided to give away large parts of their fortunes to charity. The problem can also be seen from a more selfish perspective:
it is easy to spend a million dollars on consuming, but difficult to spend a billion dollars. There are only so many things to buy. Our needs may stay constant, but we want different things. Giving may still be an expression of pure self-interest, as when it results in greater power and an enhanced reputation.
The problem from the perspective of economic theory is that we have constructed our economic models with the individual as the reference point, acting to maximize his own self-interest at the present moment. Our models have been set up to portray economic life as a matter of seeking to maximize satisfaction of our wants, assuming that the individual knows what is best not only for himself, but indirectly also for others. All these assumptions must be questioned.
The discipline of economics has been imposing individualist assumptions, not only at the cost of thinking about society, but also at the cost of thinking for the long term. Attempts by economists like Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen to discount for future generations were rejected since it was thought – justifiably – that this would make our economic models very complicated. But perhaps even more important was that it would call into question the way we live. Georgescu-Roegen was a mathematician, so he did not object to the complexity, but it was argued that the models would be difficult to explain to a non-mathematical audience and to practising businesspeople, and difficult to apply.
His ideas about discounting for future generations were seen as a political statement which broke with existing utilitarian practices. They were seen as a threat to our modern liberal democracy built on free trade. Thus, from being the favourite student and follower of Schumpeter, he soon became an outsider, and went to teach at minor universities. But in reality, of course, the accepted margin a list or neoclassical models are just as political as the models advocated by Georgescu-Roegen. But worse, and as I will show in more detail, they are leading Man’s development in the wrong direction, encouraging the consumption of future generations’ resources.
Some will see this as implying a rather sombre outlook on human existence, but there is another element to consider, as mentioned before: our ability to shape our own evolution. We have the ability to change our nature by altering our ideas and actions (habits). In the short run we can adopt new habits, in the long run we can expect changes through genetic modifications and mutations. That is, we are not necessarily the pre-programmed competitive machines we are sometimes made out to be, but a complex competitive organism where only one aspect is mechanical.
Thus, to be considered truly human in today’s world one requires a good portion of empathy and an interest in others’ wellbeing. These values are already becoming part of our nature. Science has shown that we have become more human just by living closer together in cities. These findings refute the idea, held by some, that we were more social and more caring when we lived in small isolated groups. The fact that we can include empathy in our equations, however, does not mean that we must abandon evolutionary theory or our biological explanatory models.
Empathy is part of nature, and can be explained as such. Social ideas have influenced us for millennia, but they first had significant impact on our lives during the period we call the Enlightenment, in the eighteenth century, through the writings of philosophers such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, and Schiller. To ignore the values bequeathed to us by these men and others would mean to close our eyes to human evolution. We should not allow ourselves to be reduced to mere animals, not even when we get bored with the entire project of civilization (as sometimes seems to happen) and decide to inflict massive destruction on our own kind.
Afterwards we wake up full of remorse.
This, then, must be the full perspective of any introduction to the literature of competitive advantage, if we are to address the interests and concern of all mankind. The biological perspective is important not only because it gives us scientific data (since we indisputably are a part of evolution), but also because it helps us to realize our limitations.
When evolutionary theory was abandoned at the turn of the last century (economics) and again at the end of the Second World War (political science), we swapped realism for elegant models and politically-correct opinions about the world, which have merely ended by making our studies less useful and putting our species in greater danger. Instead we need more realistic models that can incorporate the idea of change.