When I was young, the book that I wanted to write by vleighton [WorldCat.org]
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Evolutionary economics

by Kenneth E Boulding

  Print book

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When I was young, the book that I wanted to write   (2012-01-08)


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by vleighton

When I was young, the book that I wanted to write.


When I was young and in high school, I started putting together ideas. At the time, I thought the ideas were unique, but in time I learned that they really weren't. Along the path of researching those ideas, I found this book, and I decided that had I been able to write out the ideas, this is close to the book I would have written.


That having been said, it is still not a very good book.


Boulding was much praised as a social scientist and was near the end of his career when he wrote it. The text itself admits that he recorded it to a dictophone machine for transcription. It reads like a verbal ramble, complete with digressions and repetitions.


The basic thesis of the book is that the human economy can be viewed as an evolutionary system much like the biological world. He puts this idea in the context of General Systems Theory (a la von Bertalanffy). The book came at the height of the recession caused by the jump in oil prices in 1979, and it united ecological thinking with energy conservation, describing both as energy systems and evolutionary systems.


But the idea of looking for commonalities between biology and economics is very old. Indeed, Darwin read first Quetelet and then Malthus as he was formulating his theory of natural selection. Spencer made his career promoting Social Darwinism. Dawkins promoted memetics five years before this book was published, and E. O. Wilson's Sociobiology was published during this period.


One thing that I think is of value in this book is the focus on energy and entropy. The problem with the selfish gene hypothesis is that it focuses on information without fully engaging the point that that information has to be part of an ecosystem where the information carrier preserves its own order by accelerating the entropy around it. I live by consuming food. The biological world uses energy (sunlight mostly) carefully passed from organism to organism to keep life going. Likewise, social systems need an economic base, which rests on an energy base. Without keeping an eye on the resource flows, both energy and materials, the gene-centric view can lose sight of one of the hard constraints on either genes or memes. For all of its flaws, this book makes the issue of entropy an equal partner to the issue of preservation and enhancement of information.


One of the worst aspects of the book is that it treats all "artifacts" as species that have population dynamics. Boulding's "artifacts" include all biological organisms, all social organizations and all human crafted objects. By extending the concept of species to the manufactured object, he stretches it to the breaking point.

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