nep-hpe New Economics Papers
on History and Philosophy of Economics
Issue of 2005‒02‒27
four papers chosen by
Andy Denis
City University

  1. Useful Knowledge as an Evolving System: the view from Economic History. By J. Mokyr
  2. The Nature and Units of Social Selection. By G. Hodgson; T. Knudsen
  3. On the Early Holocene: Foraging to Early Agriculture By Nicolas Marceau; Gordon Myers
  4. Cultural Attitudes and Economic Development: arguments for a pluralist political economy of development By Manuel Couret Branco

  1. By: J. Mokyr
    Abstract: The process of modern growth is different from the kind of growth experienced in Europe and the Orient before 1800 in that it is sustained. Whereas in the premodern past, growth spurts would always run into negative feedback, no such ceiling seems to have been limiting the economic expansion of the past two centuries. The enigma of modern growth has led to a great deal of modeling and speculation amongst economists interested in the topic. One important strand in the literature has been that the Malthusian models that provided much of the negative feedback before 1800, have been short-circuited by the desire and ability of a growing number of individuals to reduce their fertility. Another has been institutional change, which has reduced opportunistic behavior and uncertainty. What has not been stressed enough is that the new technology was made possible by ever increasing "useful knowledge" as Kuznets called it. The sources of this growth in knowledge, surprisingly, have not been fully analyzed. How does "useful knowledge" emerge and develop? Why does it occur in one society and not another, at one time, and why does it take the form it does? This paper examines the details of how new knowledge is created by various combinations of luck, trial and error, inference, and experiment. To analyze the history of useful knowledge, an evolutionary framework to the economic history of useful knowledge is employed.
  2. By: G. Hodgson; T. Knudsen
    Abstract: On the basis of the technical definition of selection developed by George Price (1995), we describe two forms of selection that commonly occur at the social level, subset selection and generative selection. Both forms of selection are abstract and general, and therefore also incomplete; both leave aside the question of explaining the selection criterion and why entities possess stable traits. However, an important difference between the two kinds of selection is that generative selection can accommodate an explanation of how new variation is created, while subset selection cannot. An evolutionary process involving repeated cycles of generative selection can, in principle, continue indefinitely because imperfect replication generates new variation along the way, whereas subset selection reduces variation and eventually grinds to a halt. Even if the two kinds of selection examined here are very different, they share a number of features. First, neither subset selection nor generative selection implies improvement. Neither kind of selection necessarily lead to efficiency or imply systematic outcomes. Second, both subset selection and generative selection can lead to extremely rapid effects in a social population. Third, in the social domain, both generative selection and subset selection involve choice and preference. Neither form of selection necessarily excludes intentionality. In concluding the article, we single out a challenge for future research in identifying the role of various units of culture in selection processes and the multiple levels at which social selection processes take place.
    Keywords: Subset selection, generative selection, generalized selection, Price equation
    JEL: B25 B52 D20 D83 L20
  3. By: Nicolas Marceau; Gordon Myers
    Abstract: We consider a world in which the mode of food production, foraging or agriculture, is endogenous, and in which technology grows exogenously. Within a model of coalition formation, we allow individuals to rationally form cooperative communities (bands) of foragers or farmers. At the lowest levels of technology, equilibrium entails the grand coalition of foragers, a cooperative structure which avoids over-exploitation of the environment. But at a critical state of technology, the cooperative structure breaks down through an individually rational splintering of the band. At this stage, there can be an increase in work and through the over-exploitation of the environment, a food crisis. In the end, technological growth may lead to a one-way transition from foraging to agriculture.
    Keywords: Foraging, Agriculture, Transition, Coalition Formation, Cooperation
    JEL: N50 O13
    Date: 2005
  4. By: Manuel Couret Branco (Department of Economics, University of Évora)
    Date: 2005

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