On the Nature of Economic Evolution: John R. Commons and the Metaphor of Artificial Selection

  • Yngve Ramstad
Part of the Recent Economic Thought book series (RETH, volume 36)


In his famous 1898 essay, “Why Is Economics Not An Evolutionary Science?” Thorstein Veblen challenged economists to transform their discipline into an evolutionary science. In order to meet that standard, Veblen insisted, economic theory must be recast as “a theory of a cumulative sequence of economic institutions stated in terms of the process itself” (Veblen, 1919, p. 77). Except for the American institutionalists, most of whom self-consciously embraced Veblen’s “research program,” economists for the most part have ignored Veblen’s plea. Trained in a tradition rooted in the “natural law” perspective of Adam Smith, “mainstream” economists1 have generally conceived of market activity in acultural, ahistorical terms. Indeed, among the major figures in mainstream 20th-century economics, only Joseph Schumpeter has seen a need to incorporate an explicitly evolutionary stance into economic analysis.


Natural Selection Collective Action Biological Evolution Social Institution Evolutionary Approach 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yngve Ramstad
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Arts and Sciences Economics DepartmentUniversity of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA

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