Books: The Darwin Economy

According to this book, Charles Darwin might be considered the father of economics by next century.


Photo: Natalie Castellino

THE DARWIN ECONOMY: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good
Robert H. Frank

Frank believes that in a century Adam Smith will stand diminished, and that Charles Darwin will instead be considered the father of economics. Smith’s concept of the invisible hand was genuinely ground-breaking, to be sure. But Frank, a Cornell economics prof and New York Times columnist, thinks that Darwin’s theory of natural selection is more revealing about the ways in which competition actually works, and about the “systemic flaw in [its] dynamics.” Traits flourish if they make the individual better able to survive and thrive, but those same traits often promote “individual interest to the detriment of the species.” Bull elk are an example: those with the biggest, broadest horns have individual success in attracting mates and fending off rivals, so they’ve evolved in that direction. But that costs them mobility, making the species as a whole more susceptible to predators.

A tidy little metaphor, one Frank spins into an argument for a revised system of taxation. He would overcome our ingrained group destructiveness by shifting the tax burden to consumption and negative behaviours, arguing such a move could create a “successful libertarian welfare state.” Which suggests, if nothing else, that optimism remains a dominant human trait.