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Accounting for Economic Evolution: Fitness and the Population Method

CRIC Discussion Paper No. 80

Stan Metcalfe

The general themes of this paper are quite abstract, the population dynamics of economic evolution and the related concept of economic fitness. The justification for this unworldly discussion is that the idea of an economic population containing suitably differentiated members turns out to be a fruitful way to approach the analysis of industrial and market dynamics, technological change, innovation and enterprise, competition and economic growth. Thus it connects ultimately if remotely with the central historical, economic question of how wealth is created from knowledge. It provides a route to the treatment of the adaptive consequences of economic novelties that no other method can yield and provides an underpinning for the idea that what matters in explaining economic progress is not rationality alone but rationality in the context of differential behaviour. Variation, as Marshall so famously put it, is the greatest source of progress and it is to persistent entrepreneurial disagreement as to how economic activities should be conducted that we owe the remarkable increase in living standards since 1750. Two issues thus dominate an evolutionary view of economic progress, the sources of innovative novelties in economic practice, and the adaptation of the economic system to the potential contained in those novelties.

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'Accounting for Economic Evolution: Fitness and the Population Method' by Stan Metcalfe

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