Thursday, August 11, 2022

History as (Socio-Cultural) Evolution

Nathan Nunn, History as Evolution, in Alberto Bisin and Giovanni Federico, eds. The handbook of historical economics, Academic Press 2021.

Abstract: In this chapter, I consider the benefits of viewing history through an evolutionary lens. In recent decades, a field of research has emerged, which builds on foundations from biological evolution to study culture within an evolutionary framework. I begin the chapter by discussing the theory behind cultural evolution and the empirical evidence supporting its ability to explain the history of human societies. I then turn to a discussion of how an evolutionary perspective provides important insights into a range of phenomena within economics, including a deeper understanding of human capital innovation, gender roles, the consequences of welfare, the effects of market competition, why we observe historical persistence and path dependence, and most importantly, why sustained economic growth is often so elusive. I end by turning to a summary of a growing body of research within economics that has made progress in improving out understanding of cultural evolution and, thus, contributing to evolutionary disciplines outside of economics.

H/t William MacAskill.

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