Darwin and economics.

In his column in today’s edition of The Observer, Management editor Simon Caulkin warns us against presuming that  the concept of “the survival of the fittest” (a phrase adopted by Darwin from polymath Herbert Spencer), which has helped to shape much business and economic thinking in the  20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, shoud go unexamined, or be taken on trust:  

This mentality persists, especially in the US, and indeed the idea of the inevitability, and desirability, of individual struggle in weeding out the strong from the weak is what distinguishes Anglo-American from Rhine capitalism. It perfectly informs the ethos of the financial sector over the last two decades, as well as the rise of the Russian oligarchs and the development of the virulent Chinese strain of capitalist competition.

Darwinism endows such phenomena with a veneer of scientific rationale. Republican senators’ reluctance to intervene to prolong the lives of US banks; the chilling belief of City traders in their own superiority, as uncovered in interviews by the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee and David Walker; the self-justifying arguments in favour of stratospheric pay rises for chief executives and cutbacks for the less fortunate – all have uncomfortable echoes of the crude social Darwinism that influenced not only the robber barons but also the far greater 20th-century monsters, Hitler and Stalin……….


Darwin cautioned: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”


As always with Caulkin, we get from fewer than a thousand words lots of food for thought.


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