Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 281–303 | Cite as

A survey of evolutionary policy: normative and positive dimensions

  • Jeroen C. J. M. van den Bergh
  • Giorgos Kallis


We explore public policy from the perspective of evolutionary analysis. Potential entry points for developing a normative evolutionary policy theory are examined, which involves a critical examination of the related idea of “evolutionary progress”. The meaning of evolutionary policy is next studied from two different, normative and positive angles: namely, policy design informed by evolutionary thinking; and policy-making and politics as an evolutionary process. Several examples are provided to discuss the value of evolutionary thinking for policy, including in the context of the current economic crisis. Next, evolutionary policy is compared with policy advice coming from two dominant schools of policy analysis, namely neoclassical economics and public choice theory. We conclude that evolutionary thinking offers a distinct and useful perspective on public policy change and design. Nevertheless, there is a need for more synthesis and coherence among different studies as well as for policy experiments and in-depth empirical studies.


Coevolution Escaping lock-in Evolutionary politics Evolutionary progress Normative versus positive policy theories Optimal diversity 



Mikael Sandberg, Ulrich Witt and three anonymous reviewers provided useful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeroen C. J. M. van den Bergh
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
  • Giorgos Kallis
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.ICREABarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Institute for Environmental Science and TechnologyUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBellaterra (Cerdanyola)Spain
  3. 3.Department of Economics and Economic HistoryUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBellaterra (Cerdanyola)Spain
  4. 4.Faculty of Economics and Business AdministrationVU UniversityAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Institute for Environmental StudiesVU UniversityAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  6. 6.NAKE and Tinbergen InstituteAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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