Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Naomi Beck on Hayek (6): Population Growth--Malthusian Doom or Simonian Abundance?

Naomi Beck argues that Hayek's evolutionary defense of capitalism fails, because he fails to show how capitalism can solve the many problems it creates--particularly the depletion of natural resources and degradation of the environment caused by unlimited economic and population growth.  She thinks that Thomas Malthus saw this problem clearly in his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798): economic growth improves the conditions of life so that death rates decline, and population increases; but then inevitably the natural resources that sustain human life are depleted, and the human population must be reduced by famine, disease, infanticide, or war.  The neo-Malthusian Garrett Hardin saw the same problem: population growth in a world with limited resources must devastate the Earth, and therefore "freedom to breed will bring ruin to all" (122-23).

Beck criticizes Hayek for refusing to see the truth of Malthus's theory of population (119-21).  In Chapter 8 of The Fatal Conceit--"The Extended Order and Population Growth"--Hayek argued that Malthus's theory does not apply to a market economy with intensification of exchange and of the diversification and specialization of labor.  "The modern idea that population growth threatens worldwide pauperization is simply a mistake" (121).  "There is no danger whatever that, in any foreseeable future with which we can be concerned, the population of the world as a whole will outgrow its raw material resources, and every reason to assume that inherent forces will stop a process long before that could ever happen" (125).  After quoting passages like these, Beck objects: "It is not quite clear what Hayek thought would happen when we run out of resources.  He seemed totally impervious to mounting concerns regarding environmental issues and the risk of depletion or misuse of resources on the part of the scientists he quoted" (122).

In quoting the sentence above from page 125 of The Fatal Conceit about "no danger whatever," Beck (120) does not quote Hayek's references immediately following this sentence to the writings of Julian Simon, Esther Boserup, Douglas North, and Peter Bauer. She says nothing about Simon or about Simon's famous debate with Paul Ehrlich over population growth and resource availability. This is part of her rhetorical strategy of being silent about any possible objections to her position.

In 1968, Ehrlich (a biologist at Stanford) began his popular book The Population Bomb with this paragraph:
"The battle to feed all of humanity is over.  In the 1970's the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.  At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate, although many lives could be saved through dramatic programs to 'stretch' the carrying capacity of the earth by increasing food production.  But these programs will only provide a stay of execution unless they are accompanied by determined and successful efforts at population control.  Population control is the conscious regulation of the numbers of human beings to meet the needs, not just of individual families, but of society as a whole" (11).
Ehrlich's Malthusian prediction of catastrophe from unchecked population growth did not come true. Norman Borlaug's development of new high-yield varieties of food grains--the "green revolution"--allowed high-population countries like India to produce so much food in the 1970s that they actually became exporters of grain.  And while the world population in 1968 was three and one half billion, the world population today is about 7.7 billion, and yet the rate of global famine and poverty is much lower today than in 1968.

This confirms the prediction of Julian Simon--in contrast to Ehrlich--that population growth does not lead to a shortage of resources, because a growing population means not only more labor but also more ideas about how to solve our problems, and as long as there are the incentives of a free market economy, people will make resources more plentiful through more efficient uses of resources, increased supply, and the development of substitutes.  Consequently, Simon argued, a growing population creates not scarcity but abundance!  Hayek agreed with this.

In 1980, Simon challenged Ehrlich to make a bet with him.  Ehrlich could select a basket of raw materials that he expected would become less abundant and consequently more expensive over some designated time period.  At the end of that time period, the inflation adjusted price of those materials would be calculated.  If the price was higher, Ehrlich would win the wager.  If the price was lower, Simon would win.  Ehrlich chose copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten; and he chose 1980 to 1990 as the time period.  By 1990, the world population had increased by 873 million from 1980, but all five of the commodities that Ehrlich had selected had declined in price by an average of 57.6 per cent.  Ehrlich mailed Simon a check for $576.07.

Some of Ehrlich's supporters have tried to argue that Simon was just lucky, because if they had selected a different time period, Ehrlich could have won the bet.  But in 2016, some economists pointed out that in 2015 Ehrlich's five metals were 22.4 percent cheaper than they were in 1980.

Recently, Gale Pooley and Marian Tupy have developed a new way to measure the availability of resources, which confirms Simon's argument.  They have compiled the latest price data for 50 important commodities covering energy, food, materials, and metals.  They then have calculated the "time-price" of these commodities--in terms of the global average hourly income, the "time-price" is the amount of time that an average human has to work in order to earn enough money to buy a commodity.  By that standard, the real price of Ehrlich's minerals has declined in every year from 1980 to the present.  Pooley and Tupy also found that from 1980 to 2017, the real price of their basket of 50 commodities fell by 36.3 percent, and the time-price fell by 64.7 percent.

Their explanation for why Simon wins his bet with Ehrlich is based on Hayek's understanding of how the price system works to generate abundance:
"The relationship between prices and innovation is dynamic.  Relative scarcity leads to higher prices, higher prices create incentives for innovations, and innovations lead to abundance.  Scarcity gets converted to abundance through the price system.  The price system functions as long as the economy is based on property rights, rule of law, and free exchange" (11).
They conclude with this Hayekian insight:
"The world is a closed system in the way that a piano is a closed system.  The instrument has only 88 notes, but those notes can be played in a nearly infinite variety of ways.  The same applies to our planet.  The Earth's atoms may be fixed, but the possible combinations of those atoms are infinite.  What matters, then, is not the physical limits of our planet, but human freedom to experiment and reimagine the use of resources that we have" (15-16).
Oh, but what about climate change?  Hasn't capitalism caused the global warming that threatens to destroy civilization?  Doesn't slowing or reversing global warming require that we move away from unregulated capitalism towards a socialist society that restricts economic consumption and production, and thus perhaps reducing human population?  That's the argument of Naomi Klein in her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate.  Although Beck does not mention Klein's book, she would seem to implicitly agree with Klein's argument.

Hayekian liberals like Matt Ridley accept the reality of global warming as caused by the modern economic growth that has depended on increased energy use from fossil fuels.  But Ridley and others have made the Hayekian argument that as long as global free market economic incentives endure, this will promote innovative ideas for solving or mitigating the problems from global warming.

We cannot predict what these new ideas will be.  But we can see some possibilities that are already at work.  For example, as Joshua Goldstein and Staffan Qvist have argued in their new book A Bright Future, one possible solution to global warming is a rapid expansion of nuclear power.  Sweden has already done this.  40 percent of Sweden's electricity comes from nuclear power, with another 40 percent coming from hydropower.  And the rest comes from wind and biofuels.

By contrast to Sweden, Germany has tried to eliminate nuclear power, while increasing renewable energy from wind and solar.  But 40 percent of Germany's energy still comes from coal, and six of Europe's 10 most polluting power plants are in Germany.

Sweden's innovative reliance on nuclear power as a cheap, clean, and reliable source of energy to fuel economic growth while reducing global warming is one illustration of Simon's insight into how capitalism generates abundance.

Beck is silent about all of this.

So what is Beck's proposal for avoiding what she sees as the disastrous consequences of population growth?  She never says.  But she does seem to agree with Hardin that "freedom to breed will bring ruin to all" (123).  And she says that the human experience with the artificial selection of animals shows that "successful breeding is not impossible" (66).  Is she implying that we need to coercively enforce eugenics?  If so, who will decide who has the "freedom to breed"?  She doesn't say.

In my six posts on Beck's book, my main criticism has been that she refuses to acknowledge, much less answer, the many possible objections to her position.  Her book is very short--a total of 184 pages--so she could easily have added a hundred pages or so explaining her replies to the objections I have raised.  This could have been a great book,  if only her editors had sent her manuscript out to some meticulously critical referees who could have forced her to take seriously some of the criticisms that I have brought up here.

Some of my points in this post are elaborated in other posts here, herehere, and here.


REFERENCES

Ehrlich, Paul. 1968. The Population Bomb. New York: Balantine Books.

Goldstein, Joshua S., and Staffan A. Qvist. 2019. A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow.  New York: PublicAffairs.

Klein, Naomi. 2014. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Pooley, Gale L., and Marian L. Tupy. 2018. "The Simon Abundance Index: A New Way to Measure Availability of Resources." Policy Analysis: Cato Institute, number 857, December 4.

Simon, Julian. 1996. The Ultimate Resource 2. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Naomi Beck on Hayek (5): The Disregard for Darwin

Beck says that "Hayek's theory suffers from . . . disregard for the theories that inspired it" (5).  I agree with her about this--particularly in the case of Darwin.  Hayek was not a good interpreter of Charles Darwin.  Indeed, he does not even show any evidence that he had actually read Darwin!

Hayek criticized Darwin for seeing evolutionary selection as purely "genetic," and thus ignoring the importance of cultural evolution in explaining the history of human civilization.  He also criticized Darwin for ignoring group selection.  Beck rightly points out that this view of Darwin is incorrect (88-91).  Darwin accepted Lamarckian evolution through use and disuse.  He emphasized the importance of cultural evolution in explaining human social and moral history, particularly in The Descent of Man.  And he developed his own theory of group selection, which he called "community selection."  The proponents today of cultural group selection can see themselves as continuing in the tradition of Darwin.  So it is strange that Hayek did not see his own theory of cultural group selection as linked to Darwin's.

Hayek claimed that Darwin did not originate the idea of evolution, because he had inherited that idea from Bernard Mandeville, David Hume, Adam Smith, and others in the Scottish tradition of philosophy.  These were "Darwinians before Darwin."  Darwin's achievement was in applying this idea of evolution to the biological study  of the living world.  Beck criticizes Hayek for saying this: "This evaluation does not do justice to Darwin and demonstrates a rather regrettable incomprehension of his ideas, which in turn impoverished Hayek's analysis" (157).

I don't see her point here.  After all, Darwin himself acknowledged the history of the idea of evolution in the "Historical Sketch" that he added to the third edition of The Origin of Species.  Starting with Buffon, Darwin identified a long list of people who anticipated elements of evolutionary theory.  Beck says nothing about this.  It is true that he did not mention Hume and Smith in this "Historical Sketch," but he did cite them prominently in The Descent of Man.  And we know from Darwin's notebooks, that he began studying Scottish moral philosophy a few years after his return from his voyage on the Beagle as part of his effort to understand the evolution of human morality.

But if one is looking for some writer who exerted a crucial influence on Darwin's evolutionary thinking, Beck insists, one should look not at Mandeville, Hume, or Smith, but at Thomas Malthus.  After all, Darwin declared in his Autobiography that when he read Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population in October of 1838, "I had at last got a theory by which to work" (1959, 120).  Hayek, however, could not accept the Malthusian logic of evolution, Beck explains, because Hayek's ideological commitment to endless growth through capitalist expansion meant that he had to reject Malthus's warning that a growing human population must inevitably lead to a depletion of natural resources that will bring human misery.

But in assuming the truth of Malthus's reasoning, Beck ignores the anti-Malthusian arguments of Julian Simon and others that support Hayek's position.  This will be the subject of my next post.

Naomi Beck on Hayek (4): The Convergent Evolution of Liberalism Through Property, Trade, and Punishment

Beck criticizes Hayek for failing to provide sufficient evidence to support his claims about history.  In particular, she complains about Hayek's "sketchy description of the origins of private property and of long-distance trade--two pillars of free market civilization," and so what we see here is "history at the service of theory" (106).

While I agree that Hayek's history is too "sketchy," I would argue that he does at least offer a rough outline of the history of property and trade that can now be supported and elaborated by the research of economic historians and evolutionary theorists over the past 40 years.  As I have indicated in a previous post, that research challenges Hayek's Freudian theory of trading behavior as requiring a repression of our evolved instincts.  That research also suggests that Hayek was wrong in not stressing the importance of the natural instinct for punishing cheaters in enforcing the laws of nature.  Beck denigrates Hayek's history while remaining silent about this research that partly confirms and partly corrects Hayek's claims.

CONVERGENT EVOLUTION
As Beck indicates (73), Hayek saw the cultural evolution of free markets as corresponding to what biologists today call "convergent evolution."  Species that are not closely related genetically can show convergent evolution in evolving to have similar solutions to an adaptive problem.  So, for example, insects, birds, and bats have all evolved wings to give them the ability to fly although these species have very different genetic origins.  Similarly, Hayek suggests that the diverse cultural traditions of human beings tend to converge towards similar rules of social order that solve the problem of how to overcome conflicts of interest in achieving social cooperation.  Hayek observes:
"it is quite possible that one kind of system of such rules is so much more effective than all others in producing a comprehensive order for a Great Society that, as a result of the advantages derived from all changes in the direction towards it, there may occur in systems with very different beginnings a process corresponding to what biologists call 'convergent evolution.'  'The necessities of human society' may bring about an independent emergence, at many different times and places, of the same sort of system, such as that based on private property and contract.  It would seem that wherever a Great Society has arisen, it has been made possible by a system of rules of just conduct which included what David Hume called 'the three fundamental laws of nature, that of stability of possession, of its transference by consent, and of the performance of promises,' or, as a modern author sums up the essential content of all contemporary systems of private law, 'freedom of contract, the inviolability of property, and the duty to compensate another for damage due to his fault.'" (LLL [2], 40).
If Hayek is right, then we should see in the evolutionary history of human social order that those societies based on private property, free trade, and contract--Hume's three laws of nature--are manifestly successful in showing growing wealth and population.  Hayek sketches that history beginning with exchange and specialization in primitive groups and long-distance trade beginning at least 30,000 years ago in the Paleolithic age (FC, 38-39).  He implies that the migration of human ancestors out of Africa depended on trade in an extended order (FC, 41).  Oddly, this seems to contradict Hayek's claim that trading arose so recently in human history--within the last few thousand years--that it could not have become an evolved instinct.

Hayek sees evidence that some of the ancient Greek cities--particularly, Athens--protected private property and trade in ways that promoted a surge in the growth of wealth and population and that allowed for the development of the first global trading networks.  In contrast to Athens, ancient Sparta resisted the "commercial revolution," and consequently Spartan society never achieved high civilization (FC, 31-32, 39-40, 44, 46).

Hayek also sees evidence that ancient Rome during the last years of the Republic and the first two centuries of Empire had laws protecting private property and contract in ways that promoted growth, but then "this first extended order" declined when centralized government impeded commercial freedom.  He sees this as a repeated pattern in which civilization advances when a government protects individual liberty so that there can be an increasingly complex order of spontaneous and voluntary cooperation; but then the government abuses its powers in suppressing individual liberty, so that civilization declines as wealth and population declines (FC, 32).  He sees the same pattern in ancient Egypt and imperial China: civilization advances during times of weak government control over society that allows for capitalist growth, but then the expanding power of a central government brings a decline in growth.

In the history of Europe during the later Middle Ages and the early modern period, Hayek indicates:
"It was not under the more powerful governments, but in the towns of the Italian Renaissance, of South Germany, and of the Low Countries, and finally in lightly-governed England, i.e., under the rule of the bourgeoisie rather than of warriors, that modern industrialism grew.  Protection of several property, not the direction of its use by government, laid the foundations for the growth of the dense network of exchange of services that shaped the extended order" (FC, 33).
Recent research in evolutionary science and in economic history gives some support to Hayek's history of how extended social orders of cooperation arise from the enforcement of Hume's three laws of nature.  Beck says nothing about this.

THE EVOLUTIONARY STUDY OF LAW
First, as summarized in Morris Hoffman's The Punisher's Brain, evolutionary science sustains a slightly modified form of Hume's three laws.  (Previously, I have written a post on Hoffman's work.)

Like Hayek and Hume, Hoffman thinks human beings have always faced what he calls the Social Problem.  The problem arises from our human nature as both selfish and social animals, so that we must always face the question: cheat or cooperate?  We are inclined to cheat others in our group whenever cheating would be to our selfish advantage.  But we are also inclined to cooperate, because living in cooperative groups has always given us long-term advantages in the struggles of life.  We have evolved instincts both to cheat and to cooperate.  But we also have a third evolved instinct--to punish cheaters in order to reduce cheating and increase cooperation by increasing the costs of cheating.  We are guided by three rules of right and wrong rooted in our evolved human nature to promote cooperation by securing property and promises. Rule 1: Transfers of property must be voluntary.  Rule 2: Promises must be kept.  Rule 3: Serious violations of Rules 1 and 2 must be punished.  Hoffman is a trial judge in Denver, and he thinks these rules underlie everything that is done by judges and jurors.

Hoffman interprets "property" in a broad sense as starting with self-ownership and encompassing one's life, health, and possessions, as well as the life, health, and possessions of one's family and others to whom one is attached.  Hoffman here echoes Locke's argument for self-ownership as the ground of property rights.  Understood in this broad way, Rule 1 embraces criminal law, while Rule 2 embraces contract law.

Classical liberals could accept this as a good statement of their claim that the primary purpose of law is to punish force and fraud and secure the liberty of individuals to live as they please so long as they do not harm others.

Hoffman supports his argument for these rules and punishments being rooted in evolved human nature with various kinds of empirical evidence from economic game experiments, animal behavior, behavioral endocrinology, neuroscience, brain imaging studies, evolutionary anthropology, child psychology, and legal history.

Although this largely confirms Hume's account of the "three laws of nature" as endorsed by Hayek, it emphasizes more than Hume and Hayek do the importance of the evolved instinct for punishing cheaters.  Hayek only rarely speaks of punishment, as when he says that "under the rule of law, government can infringe a person's protected private sphere only as punishment for breaking an announced general rule" (CL, 206).

By comparison with Hayek and Hume, John Locke is more emphatic in affirming the natural right to punish--the "executive power of the law of nature"--as the fundamental doctrine for liberal social order.  I have written about this here and here.

EVOLUTIONARY ECONOMIC HISTORY
The second line of recent research supporting Hayek's evolutionary history of liberal order is in economic history.  Many economic historians now agree with Hayek that throughout history those societies that have enforced institutional rules protecting private property, trade, and contracts have flourished in ways that promoted growth spurts in wealth and population.

In particular, Hayek was right about the "commercial revolution" in ancient Athens as illustrating the convergent evolution towards liberal order.  In The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece (2015), Josiah Ober has surveyed the evidence that ancient Athens in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE was one of those premodern societies that showed an "efflorescence" (in the terminology of Jack Goldstone)--a period of increased economic growth as well as increasing population and cultural achievement promoted by a vigorous commercial life that is similar to what we see today in modern liberal societies.  (I have written about this here.)

Ober argues against the common assumption of many scholars that ancient Greece was poor and experienced little or no economic growth.  He shows that Greece in the classical era had rates of growth in both consumption and population that were much higher than the premodern norm and higher than any period in Greek history until the middle of the 20th century.  He offers the sort of institutional explanation of economic growth advocated by Douglas North and others: "Fair rules and competition within a marketlike ecology of states promoted capital investment, innovation, and rational cooperation in a contest of low transaction costs" (103).

Similar conclusions the ancient Greek economy have been supported by Alain Bresson in The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy: Institutions, Markets, and Growth in the City-States (2016). The ancient Greek economy showed some of the features of capitalist society that supported a long period of unprecedented economic growth.  The rule of law enforced property rights and contractual obligations in a way that sustained both domestic and international markets for trade.  The Greek city had two institutions for trade--the agora, or internal market, and the emporion, or market for international trade.  This trade allowed for an extensive domestic and international division of labor.  The Greek world experienced the first world economy based on long-distance trade.

This was made possible by the institutional enforcement of Hume's three laws of nature--private property, exchange, and contract.  This can also explain Goldstone's account of the other "efflorescences" in premodern history--spurts of growth in wealth and population--that include the High Middle Ages in northwestern Europe (1150-1250), Golden Age Holland (1570-1670), High Qing China (1680-1780), and Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution (1760-1830).

And yet, in none of these cases, does one see the self-sustaining and accelerating explosion in economic growth that began in Great Britain around 1850, which Deirdre McCloskey calls The Great Enrichment.  Although Northian institutionalism can explain the earlier efflorescences of economic growth in per capita income of up to 1% per year, it cannot explain the unprecedented growth in the past two centuries, in which liberal societies have seen increases in average income from 1800 to the present of over 1,000i to 3,000 per cent.  To explain that, McCloskey argues, we need to see the crucial rhetorical change that led to the great Bourgeois Revaluation that recognized and honored the moral and intellectual virtues of the bourgeois commercial society  While Hayek never developed this idea, he does perhaps point to it in speaking about modern commercial societies as being "under the rule of the bourgeoisie."

This looks like what Hayek identified as the convergent evolution of liberal social order:  whenever and wherever societies have adopted the rules of liberal order, this has produced spurts of growth in wealth, population, and cultural complexity; and now with the global spread of those rules over the past 200 years, this has produced a self-sustaining and accelerated explosion of growth beyond anything ever seen in all of human history.

Beck is silent about all of this.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Correction: Alexander von Humboldt Did Not Use the Word "Liberalism" in 1804

A few years ago, I wrote a post on "The Evolutionary History of the Word 'Liberalism'."  I claimed that the first use of the word "liberalism" in its moral or political sense was by Alexander von Humboldt in a letter to Thomas Jefferson of May 24, 1804.  I had found the letter in Helmut de Terra's article "Alexander von Humboldt's Correspondence with Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 103 (December 15, 1959), p. 787.  The second sentence of the letter reads: "I feel it my pleasant duty to present my respects and express my high admiration for your writings, your actions, and the liberalism of your ideas, which have inspired me from my earliest youth."

Recently, I have been reading Helena Rosenblatt's good book The Lost History of Liberalism: From Ancient Rome to the Twenty-First Century (Princeton University Press, 2018).  When I noticed that she had not identified von Humboldt's use of the word "liberalism," I wrote to her about this.  But then she pointed out to me that I was mistaken.  The letter was actually written in French, and Helmut de Terra had wrongly translated the French word liberalite as "liberalism."  Of course, the correct English translation would be "liberality."  The French word for "liberalism" is liberalisme, and that is not the word von Humboldt used.  You can see an image of von Humboldt's original letter here.

I am happy to correct my mistake.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Naomi Beck on Hayek (3): Individual Agency and Judgment in the Evolution of Liberalism

The cultural evolution of liberalism does not preclude, but rather presupposes, genetic evolution and individual judgment.  As I have often argued on this blog, we need to move through three levels of analysis to explain the evolution of liberalism: the genetic history of human nature, the cultural history of human traditions, and the individual history of human judgments.

In Darwinian Conservatism, I suggested that one can see the complex interaction between these three levels in Hayek's writings.  So, for the study of morality, we need to move through moral sentiments, moral traditions, and moral judgments.  And for the study of law, we need to move through natural law, customary law, and positive law.

And yet, sometimes Hayek elevates cultural evolution in a way that seems to deny the importance of innate instinct, on the one hand, and individual rational agency, on the other.  This makes Hayek appear incoherent in ways that are rightly criticized by Naomi Beck.  Ultimately, however, a careful reading of Hayek shows his reliance on the three levels of evolutionary analysis.

Hayek explains: "Tradition is not something constant but the product of a process of selection guided not by reason but by success," in that the practices of those groups that are most successful tend to prevail over the practices of those groups that are less successful.  Therefore, tradition "changes but can rarely be deliberately changed.  Cultural selection is not a rational process; it is not guided by but it creates reason" (LLL [3], 166).  But, as Beck notes, this contradicts Hayek's claim that ideas govern evolution:  "The belief that in the long run it is ideas and therefore the men who give currency to new ideas that govern evolution, and the belief that the individual steps in that process should be governed by a set of coherent conceptions, have long formed a fundamental part of the liberal creed" (CL, 112).  After all, Hayek devoted his life to propagating liberal ideas with the hope that these ideas would influence cultural evolution, even if only slowly and indirectly.

Hayek sees the critical turning points in the evolution of different economic orders as coming from the actions of individual "pathbreakers":
"There can be little doubt that from the toleration of bartering with the outsider, the recognition of delimited private property, especially in land, the enforcement of contractual obligations, the competition with fellow craftsmen in the same trade, the variability of initially customary prices, the lending of money, particularly at interest, were all initially infringements of customary rules--so many falls from grace.  And the law-breakers, who were to be path-breakers, certainly did not introduce the new rules because they recognized that they were beneficial to the community, but they simply started some practices advantageous to; them which then did prove beneficial to the group in which they prevailed" (LLL [3], 161).
Here Hayek recognizes individual agency in cultural evolution, in that individuals acting for their self-interest discover the advantages of trade, which can then be favored by group selection when it is beneficial for the group.  He seems to think that "bartering with the outsider" arose first only in the last few thousand years of human history.  But if Richerson, Boyd, Tooby, and Cosmides are correct, it arose much earlier--perhaps hundreds of thousands of years earlier--and thus the propensity for trade could have become innate through gene-culture coevolution.

Hayek also sees that liberalism requires some individuals to exercise deliberate control of the general order of society, although it's limited to the formulation of abstract rules.  He writes:
"Reason is merely a discipline, an insight into the limitations of the possibilities of successful action, which often will tell us only what not to do.  This discipline is necessary precisely because our intellect is not capable of grasping reality in all of its complexity.  Although the use of abstraction extends the scope of phenomena which we can master intellectually, it does so by limiting the degree to which we can foresee the effects of our actions, and therefore also by limiting to certain general features the degree to which we can shape the world to our liking.  Liberalism for this reason restricts deliberate control of the overall order of society to the enforcement of such general rules as are necessary for the formation of a spontaneous order, the details of which we cannot foresee" (LLL [1], 32).
Beck quotes the first two sentences in this passage--on the limits of reason--as contradicting Hayek's effort to design a "constitution of liberty" to promote a free society (150).  But the last two sentences in this passage indicate how Hayek's account of the limits of reason allows for the deliberate design of a liberal order, albeit only at a very general level of rules without any specification of details.  And so, for example, the framers of the American Constitution could design a "higher law" in the Constitution, establishing "a hierarchy of rules or laws, where those possessing a higher degree of generality and proceeding from a superior authority control the contents of the more specific laws that are passed by a delegated authority" (CL, 178).

Hayek's insistence on the superior wisdom of cultural traditions that are not the products of rational design provokes Beck's criticism that he is promoting a cultural relativism and fatalism that contradicts Hayek's promotion of liberal ideas to guide cultural evolution.  But this ignores Hayek's claim that in cultural evolution, there is "certainly room for improvement," and "we must constantly re-examine our rules and be prepared to question every single one of them," although our critical questioning must always be constrained by our cultural history (LLL [3], 167).

The need for the critical scrutiny of the rules that emerge from cultural evolution should be evident, Hayek observes, if for no other reason than that "there has so often been coercive interference in the process of cultural evolution" (FC, 20).  So Hayek seems to agree with those evolutionary theorists who argue that "self-interested agents create, maintain, and modify group-functional culture," and they do this either coercively or collaboratively (Singh et al. 2016).

So, again, Hayek's evolutionary liberalism is best understood as a complex interaction of natural history, cultural history, and individual judgment.


REFERENCE

Singh, Manvir, Luke Glowack, and Richard W. Wrangham. 2016. "Self-Interested Agents Create, Maintain, and Modify Group-Functional Culture." Behavioral and Brain Sciences e52.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Naomi Beck on Hayek (2): The Liberalism of Living in Two Worlds of Evolved Social Instincts

In The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, Hayek explains that in a liberal social order people must learn to live in two different social worlds:
". . . the structures of the extended order are made up not only of individuals but also of many, often overlapping, sub-orders within which old instinctual responses, such as solidarity and altruism continue to retain some importance by assisting voluntary collaboration, even though they are incapable, by themselves, of creating a basis for the more extended order.  Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within different kinds of orders according to different rules.  If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilization), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it.  Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them.  So we must learn to live in two sorts of world at once" (18).
The macro-cosmos is the world of extended--even global--social and economic exchange among huge numbers of people who are generally unknown to one another, which is the world of market relationships.  The micro-cosmos is the world of small groups--families, firms, schools, churches, clubs, and other voluntary associations--where people interact face to face with other people whom they know and love.  To live in both worlds at once requires that we live under the impersonal rules of the macro-cosmos and the personal rules of the micro-cosmos without imposing the rules of one world on the other.

But then Hayek often contradicts this teaching when he says that living in the extended order of the macro-cosmos requires that we repress the social instincts for solidarity and altruism in the micro-cosmos.  This is what Beck means when she speaks of Hayek as recommending that our "new market morality" must "override," "replace," "subjugate," or "substitute" for the old social instincts of families and intimate groups (52, 70, 92).  Here then is one of those "incoherencies" that Beck sees in Hayek's writing.  On the one hand, he recommends living in two worlds at once.  On the other hand, he insists that one world must replace the other.

The reason for Hayek's confusion here is his Freudian theory of human social evolution.  He believes that our evolved human nature was shaped over hundreds of thousands of years of living as hunter-gatherers in families and small bands who never engaged in long-distance trade or exchange, and so we have evolved social instincts for living in families and small groups where everything is shared in common, but since trading with strangers arose first only a few thousand years ago, we have no instinctive propensities for the extended order of trade.  So, in effect, Hayek agrees with the Marxist anthropologists who have argued that the first human beings lived as primitive communists, and therefore modern communism could satisfy our evolved instinctive adaptation for communism.  To defend capitalism, Hayek must argue for the repression of those communist instincts, because "an atavistic longing after the life of the noble savage is the main source of the collectivist tradition" (1988, 19).

Beck rightly points to this problem in Hayek's thinking.  But she is silent about how some of the evolutionary anthropologists that she cites--such as Peter Richerson, Rob Boyd, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides--have corrected the mistake that created Hayek's problem.  Contrary to what Hayek assumed, we can now see that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were not pure communists, and that in fact they engaged in trade and exchange, so that the modern extended order of trade can be understood as an extension of the ancient social instincts for exchange.  We can live in two worlds at once because both worlds are rooted in the evolved instincts of our universal human nature.

Beck refers to Richerson and Boyd and their "tribal social instincts hypothesis" as explaining how "there was no opposition between the morality of primitive tribal societies and that of large civilized ones" (115).  But she is completely silent about their argument that this explains why "the free enterprise system that dominates the world economy today has deep evolutionary roots," because "the free enterprise societies' combination of individual autonomy, wealth, and welfare bear a strong resemblance to the preferences that are rooted in our ancient and tribal social instincts" ("Evolution of Free Enterprise Values," in Paul Zak, ed., Moral Markets [Princeton University Press, 2008], 107, 134).  The anthropologist Alan Fiske has shown that "market pricing" is one of the four models of social cooperation that are universal to all human societies.  As Jonathan Haidt has observed, our evolved human nature makes us both tribal and trading animals.  Adam Smith was right about human beings as showing a natural propensity to truck, barter, and exchanged that is expressed in the modern market economy.

Beck is silent about this because this shows how evolutionary science can support capitalism as rooted in our evolved human nature.

Hayek does seem to contradict himself in saying that we should not use the rules of the macro-cosmos to "crush" the micro-cosmos, but then saying that the macro-cosmos must "repress" the micro-cosmos.  Hayek might have said that there is no contradiction if "repress" means "restraining" without "crushing."  Hayek objected to the original Greek meaning of oikonomia as "household management," which mistakenly suggests transforming the market order into a "household state" (The Constitution of Liberty, 260-61; Law, Legislation, and Liberty (1), 37; Law, Legislation, and Liberty (2), 107-108).  "Home economics" is a top-down organization that can be centrally planned by the adults in the household for the common good of all in the family.  But a large market economy must emerge from the bottom-up as a spontaneous order without central planning.  The mistake of socialism is the belief that a large modern economy can be organized as a single household.  To avoid this mistake, we must repress but not crush the social instincts of household economics to protect the freedom of market economics based on the social instincts of exchange and trade.

Although Hayek said very little about family life, what he did say made it clear that protecting the household economics of the family as an organization was crucial for the liberal social order.  This denies the common claim that the liberalism of free markets subverts the solidarity of family life.  Some Hayekian economists--such as Steve Horwitz in Hayek's Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions (2015)--have elaborated a Hayekian account of the family as an organization in which parents have both the knowledge and the incentives for properly rearing children.  The failure of socialist central planning is manifest not only in its failure to plan a modern economy without markets but also in its failure to provide a centrally planned substitute for private families.  Beck is totally silent about this.

It is common for the right-wing critics of Hayekian liberalism--like Patrick Deneen and Rod Dreher, for example--to argue that liberalism teaches a false individualistic conception of human beings as naturally solitary and autonomous beings.  Since human beings really are naturally social animals, who yearn for social bonding in families, friendships, and social groups, these critics argue, people in liberal societies who live as solitary individuals suffer an unhappy loneliness.  The Hayekian idea of living in two worlds at once denies this criticism by recognizing the crucial importance of the social life lived in families, friendships, and voluntary associations.

These points are elaborated in other posts herehere, here., here., here, and here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Naomi Beck on Hayek

Naomi Beck's Hayek and the Evolution of Capitalism (University of Chicago Press, 2018) is the first book-length study of Hayek's evolutionary argument for liberalism.  It is a vigorous critique of Hayek's reasoning.  As indicated by a previous post (here), I first met Beck and heard her critique of Hayek about five years ago in Freiburg, Germany.  Reading her book confirms my first assessment of her reasoning:  some of her criticisms of Hayek are persuasive, but some are not.  Her book is valuable because it forces me to clarify my points of agreement and disagreement with Hayek in developing my own evolutionary argument for liberalism.  This will be the first of a series of posts on Beck's book.

Beck's general conclusion is that "the theory of cultural evolution he advanced provides perhaps the clearest example of his resistance to question his basic convictions," which shows an "ideological commitment" to free market capitalism that is "more a matter of faith than a well-founded position" (156).

In response to this claim, one might ask: Does she ever question her basic convictions about the moral, economic, and political failures of liberal capitalism? The answer is no.  The best way to question one's convictions is to acknowledge the good objections to those convictions and then to try to reply to those objections.  Thomas Aquinas's mode of "disputation" shows this: for each question he takes up, begins by stating the best objections to his answer and ends by replying to each objection.  I have found that sometimes Aquinas is so good at stating the objections that the objections can seem more persuasive than his replies!

As Beck indicates, Darwin was like Aquinas in recognizing and replying to objections: Darwin "was particularly careful not to dodge difficult questions that presented a challenge to his theory" (113).  In On the Origin of Species, Darwin began the sixth chapter by observing: "Long before having arrived at this part of my work, a crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader.  Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered; but, to the best of my judgment, the greater number are only apparent, and those that are real are not, I think, fatal to my theory" (1859, 171).  He then devotes five chapters to answering the objections to his theory.

In contrast to Darwin, Beck never questions her convictions, because she is silent about all of the obvious objections to her position.  The only possible exception to this comes in an endnote in her book. She criticizes Hayek for refusing to take seriously the problem of how the growth in population and wealth promoted by capitalism must inevitably lead to the exhaustion and misuse of natural resources.  She thinks that Garrett Hardin explained the fundamental problem well in his essay on "The Tragedy of the Commons":  when people have free access to  a common limited resource, their self-interest will move them to exploit the resource until it is depleted (122).  But then in a e one-sentence endnote to this passage, Beck writes: "Hardin's interpretation of the commons as a kind of no-man's land instead of a common pool resource collectively governed by its users was strongly criticized, most notably by the Nobel Laureate Eleanor Ostrom (1990) and subsequent scholarship" (164, n. 1).  The reference is to Ostrom's Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, which makes a Hayekian argument for how people can manage common resources for the good of all through the spontaneous evolution of cooperative institutions without any need for governmental coercion.  Beck never explains or replies to Ostrom's argument.  At the end of her book, Beck repeats Hardin's assertion of "the impossibility of infinite growth in a finite world" (159), while remaining silent about Ostrom's objection.

All of Beck's argumentation against Hayek is weakened by this refusal to answer any of the good objections to her reasoning.  And yet, as I have said, she does expose some problems in Hayek's position, which she rightly identifies as making two primary claims:
"First, because the rules of the free market are not the product of rational design, they surpass our capacity for social planning.  And second, these rules conflict with natural impulses, such as solidarity and altruism, which have evolved during the long period of small group existence, but which are not compatible with the profit-driven rules underlying the anonymous market interactions that have made the 'Great Society' possible.  Together, these claims were supposed to form a decisive refutation of all 'socialist' aspirations to improve society through planned reforms.  But Hayek's theory suffers from incoherencies, lack of supporting evidence, and also disregard for the theories that inspired it.  He hoped to demonstrate with evolutionary arguments that 'socialists are wrong about the facts' (1988 6; italics in the original), namely they misunderstand the origins of modern civilization and what is required to preserve it.  Yet his own evolutionary analysis took such extensive liberties with respect to the principles that have guided this mode of reasoning since Darwin, that to inscribe it within this scientific tradition, as Hayek intended, seems ill suited. Consequently, his alleged scientific, facts-based defense of capitalism loses its bite" (4-5).
So I see here four general kinds of criticisms:  Hayek's reasoning is said to show (1) incoherencies, (2) lack of supporting evidence, (3) a disregard for the evolutionary theories that he invokes, and (4) consequently, his alleged scientific facts-based defense of capitalism fails to show how it solves all the problems it creates.

I will be writing a series of posts on all of these criticisms.  But here at the beginning, I will point to one oddity about Beck's overall position in this book.  Hayek's general argument is that socialist central planning through the public ownership of the means of production must fail in any modern large society, because no extended order of society can be organized without a system of market prices.  Since Beck is such a thorough critic of Hayek, the reader expects her to end her book by declaring that Hayek is wrong, because socialist central planning works.

Oddly, however, she doesn't say that.  She does say that "Hayek most definitely did not defeat socialism with the help of evolutionary arguments" (159).  But then she says that "while total social planning might have the consequences he described, limited socialist interventions of the minimal kind might actually improve people's lives" (153).  So Hayek is right about the failure of "total social planning"?  And what exactly does she mean by "limited socialist inventions of the minimal kind"?  She doesn't say.

I do think she's right about the incoherence of Hayek's "socialism-as-atavism" thesis, as I will explain in my next post.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Evolutionary Psychology or Cultural Group Selection? Or Both?

At his Internet salon for the discussion of ideas--Edge--John Brockman asks one question at the beginning of each year and then over a 150 smart people answer the question in short essays.  In 2014, his question was "What scientific idea is ready for retirement?"  The answer of Peter Richerson (a Professor of Environmental Studies and Policy at the University of California-Davis) was "Human Nature."  The answer of John Tooby (a Professor of Anthropology at the University of California-Santa Barbara) was "Leaning and Culture."

While Richerson and Tooby are both leaders in evolutionary science, they disagree in their view of the primary subject of human evolution.  As a leading proponent of Cultural Group Selection, Richerson thinks human evolution is fundamentally about the evolution of human culture.  As a leading proponent of Evolutionary Psychology, Tooby thinks human evolution is fundamentally about the evolution of human nature.

For Richerson, the concept of human nature clouds our understanding of human evolution by assuming a mistaken dichotomy of nature and nurture or nature and culture, in which nature is wrongly seen as prior to culture in both evolutionary and developmental time.  In fact, Richerson argues, the evolutionary evidence for stone tool technology going back millions of years and the developmental evidence for social learning beginning early in infancy indicate  that human culture is prior to human nature, and that cultural evolution has driven genetic evolution.

For Tooby, the concepts of human culture and human learning explain nothing, because the phenomena of culture and learning themselves require explanation.  The idea of culture in the social sciences is like the idea of protoplasm in cell biology.  Protoplasm was once identified as the substance that worked through unknown mechanisms to carry out the vital processes of the cell.  But this was only a confession of ignorance.  "Now we recognize that protoplasm was magician's misdirection--a black box placeholder for ignorance, eclipsing the bilipid layers, ribosomes, Golgi bodies, proteasome, mitochondria, centrosomes, cilia, vesicles, sliceosomes, vacuoles, microtubules, lamellipodia, cisternae, etc. that were actually carrying out cellular processes."  Similarly, Tooby argues, the idea of culture needs to be replaced with a map of the evolved cognitive and motivational programs in the brain (the "organelles") that actually carry out our mental functions.

Despite the apparent opposition between these two positions, a careful study of the debate here reveals the underlying compatibility of cultural group selection and evolutionary psychology.  We need a science of human evolution that explains the complex coevolutionary interaction of human nature and human culture, which was originally proposed by Charles Darwin himself.

The proponents of gene-culture coevolution--the idea that human genes and culture are equally important in the human coevolutionary system--see support for this in Darwin's writings.  They even see Darwin as using his understanding of cultural evolution as the model for organic evolution (Mesoudi, Whiten, and Laland 2004; Richerson and Boyd 2010).  Friedrich Hayek made the same point--that Darwin's theory of biological evolution was the application to biology of the idea among the Scottish philosophers that social order arose by the cultural evolution of spontaneous order.

The logic of Darwin's argument for evolution depends on three principles--variation, competition, and inheritance.  Evolution requires variation of characters.  It also requires that those variable characters compete in such a way that some characters are more advantageous than others in the struggle for life.  Finally, if those characters are inherited, then the more advantageous characters will tend to spread in subsequent generations; and the accumulation of those favorable variations will produce adaptive designs for survival and reproduction.  This same logic applies to both biological and cultural evolution.

Darwin saw this evolutionary logic in the cultural evolution of language.  In The Descent of Man, he observed:
"The formation of different languages and of distinct species, and the proofs that both have been developed through a gradual process, are curiously the same. . . . Dominant languages and dialects spread widely and lead to the gradual extinction of other tongues. . . . We see variability in every tongue, and new worlds are continually cropping up; but as there is a limit in the powers of the memory, single words, like whole languages, gradually become extinct.  As Max Muller has well remarked: 'A struggle for life is constantly going on amongst the words and grammatical forms in each language.  The better, the shorter, the easier forms are constantly gaining the upper hand, and they owe their success to their own inherent virtue.' . . . The survival or preservation of certain favoured words in the struggle for existence is natural selection" (1871, 1:60-61; 2004, 112-13).
The evolution of language shows the coevolution of biological instinct and social learning.  The human brain has evolved adaptations for learning language, so that once they reach the critical learning period for language, all normal human children learn whatever language they hear spoken around them.  As Darwin said, "every language has to be learnt," but "man has an instinctive tendency to speak" (1871, 1:55; 2004, 108).  Rather than separating instinct from learning, we need to see that language shows an instinct for learning.

Darwin saw a similar evolutionary logic in the cultural evolution of morality.  He thought that human morality could have evolved through four overlapping stages of instinctive and cultural evolution.  First, social instincts led early human ancestors to feel sympathy for others in their group, which promoted a tendency to mutual aid.  Then with the development of their intellectual faculties and their capacities for language and habit, they were able to formulate and obey social norms of good conduct that could be transmitted as social traditions and inherited habits.  Darwin also stressed the importance of tribal warfare in the development of morality: such contests spurred the development of the moral and intellectual capacities that allow individuals to cooperate within groups so as to compete successfully against other groups.  Thus, Darwin proposed what today would be called evolution by group selection.  "Ultimately," he concluded, "our moral sense or conscience becomes a highly complex sentiment--originating in the social instincts, largely guided by the approbation of our fellow-men, ruled by reason, self-interest, and in later times by deep religious feelings, and confirmed by instruction and habit" (2004, 121-22, 130, 155-58).

Darwin had no knowledge of genetics, and so he could not understand the genetic evolution of instincts.  Nor did he clearly formulate the modern concept of culture.  Nevertheless, evolutionary scientists today can see in Darwin's writings at least a rudimentary conception of what today is called gene-culture coevolutionary theory based on the complex interaction of genetic evolution and cultural evolution.

And yet, as indicated by the debate between Richerson and Tooby, evolutionary scientists seem to be split between those who stress the evolution of culture and those who stress the evolution of human nature.  One can see that split in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences in the debate over an article by Richerson et al. (2016).  But if one studies that debate carefully, one can also see that despite the apparent split, cultural group selection and evolutionary psychology are fundamentally compatible and complementary.  I also see here the need for a third level of analysis--the level of human individuals added to the levels of human nature and human culture.  We need to understand the evolution of human social order through the complex interaction of human natural history, cultural history, and biographical history.

The initial question raised by Richerson and other proponents of cultural group selection is how can we explain the evolution of cooperation in modern mass societies with huge populations of millions of people and in global social networks of exchange that encompass the entire Earth.  Throughout 99% of human evolutionary history, for millions of years, our ancestors lived in small bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers that might sometimes have met in tribes of no more than a few hundred people.  It was less than 10,000 years ago that some human beings moved into larger sedentary settlements and then with the development of agriculture there arose large cities with expanding populations.  We can explain cooperation in small foraging bands as based on the genetically evolved instincts for kin selection and reciprocal exchange among people in face-to-face relationships. But it's hard to see how these genetically evolved social instincts for cooperation in small groups of relatives and known individuals can sustain cooperation extended to millions or even billions of human beings who are not kin and not personally known to one another.  We still have the genetically evolved social psychology of our ancient foraging ancestors, because there hasn't been enough time for human beings to become genetically adapted to modern mass societies.

This has led Richerson and others (like Robert Boyd, Joseph Henrich, and Kevin Laland) to propose that we have become adapted for social cooperation in modern societies not by genetic evolution but by cultural group selection. So, for example, the cultural evolution of "Axial Age" universalistic religions beginning around 500 B.C.E. created ethical systems enforced by belief in eternal rewards and punishments by moralistic "Big Gods," which fostered cooperation among co-religionists living in expanded social orders (Richerson et al. 2016, 13).  Those living in religious groups that were successful in surviving,  in recruiting converts, and in promoting high birth rates among their members prevailed over other religious groups that were less successful.  The rapid expansion of Christianity in competition with pagan religions illustrates this cultural group selection of religions.

Proponents of cultural group selection argue that we can see the three principles of "Darwin's syllogism"--variation, inheritance, and competition--in cultural evolution through group selection.  1.  Human groups often vary culturally.  2. This cultural variation is transmitted vertically from generation to generation and horizontally within a group.  3. Success in intergroup competition is frequently determined by cultural differences, so that some cultural groups are more successful in survival and reproduction than competing groups.  The evidence for these three claims--as surveyed by Richerson et al. (2016)--is evidence for cultural group selection.

There is some evidence that the first two claims are true for some other animals, but not the third claim.  Chimpanzee communities, for example, show cultural variation that is transmitted by social learning.  To that extent, chimpanzees are cultural animals.  But while chimpanzee communities compete, there is no clear evidence that success in group competition is influenced by cultural differences, and therefore there is no cultural group selection among chimpanzees.  There is some evidence, however, that whale and dolphin species could satisfy all three principles of the Darwinian syllogism; and if so, they could show cultural group selection (Richerson et al. 2016, 57).

Against Richerson and his colleagues, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides have responded by arguing that human cooperation in modern mass societies can be explained through the instinctive adaptations to small-scale social life without any need for cultural group selection.  They write:
"The properties of individual carbon atoms allow them to chain into complex molecules of immense length.  They are not limited to structures involving only a few atoms.  The design features of our evolved neural adaptations appear similarly extensible.  Individuals with forager brains can link themselves together into unprecedentedly large cooperative structures without the need for large group-beneficial modifications to evolved human design.  Roles need only be intelligible to our social program logic and judged better than alternatives" (Tooby and Cosmides 2016, 42).
In particular, they argue that the ancient evolved instinct for exchange or trade in foraging bands can be extended to encompass modern networks of exchange in mass societies:
"The dazzlingly extended forms of modern cooperation we see today (Adam Smith's division of labor supporting globe-spanning trade) appear differentially built out of adaptations for small-scale sociality that modularly scale, such as exchange--rather than the marginal benevolence of Smith's butcher, brewer, and baker.  Evidence indicates that political attitudes toward welfare and redistribution reflect a specialized forager psychology of sharing for variance reduction (Peterson et al. 2012) and resource-conflict (Peterson et al. 2013).  Societies that attempted to harness general benevolence to organize institutions and production--the USSR, East Germany, China, Cambodia, North Korea, Cuba--were spectacular cooperative failures.  That they functioned at all depended on other scalable small-scale specializations--aggressive threats (conditional punishment), hierarchy, dominance, coalitions, and so forth" (Tooby and Cosmides 2016, 42).
Notice that Tooby and Cosmides reject the claim of Marxist anthropologists that ancient human foraging bands were societies of primitive communism, and so modern communism could be a revival of this original natural state of humanity.  Notice also that in rejecting this Marxist claim, they also reject Friedrich Hayek's claim that socialism's popularity comes from its atavistic appeal to the socialist instincts shaped in ancient foraging bands, and therefore that a modern extended order of liberal capitalism requires a cultural suppression of evolved tribal instincts.  In contrast to Hayek, Tooby and Cosmides agree with Adam Smith that "the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange" is natural for human beings, who engaged in exchange or trade even in their ancient foraging bands.

Tooby and Cosmides agree with Alan Page Fiske that "market pricing" is one of the four psychological models of social organization found universally in human societies, including prehistoric foraging bands.  Consequently, socialist societies that attempt to abolish or suppress "market pricing" must fail because this runs contrary to evolved human nature (Tooby and Cosmides 1992, 211-218).  Contrary to Hayek's argument, modern liberal capitalism satisfies some instinctive desires of human beings.  (I have written about this in some previous posts hereherehere, here, and here.)

"Market pricing" and trade among foragers are well illustrated by the Aboriginal Australians.  The whole continent of Australia was crisscrossed with trading paths, usually along waterhole routes.  Goods such as pearl shells, spears, stone axes, shields, boomerangs, and bamboo necklaces travelled by trade across Australia (Berndt and Berndt 1988).  For example, the Yir Yoront group on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula (in the far north of Queensland) traded sting ray spears for stone axes.  The flat alluvial country of the Yir Yoront provided no suitable stone for axes.  The best stone for stone axes came from quarries 400 miles to the south, which came to them through long lines of trading partners.  The Yir Yoront had a surplus supply of sting ray spears, which are good fighting spears because the sting ray barbs break into fragments when they penetrate human flesh.  At the coast, where sting ray spears were plentiful, a man might have to trade a dozen spears for one stone axe head.  But a 150 miles south of Yir Yoront, closer to the stone quarries, one spear might be traded for one stone axe head.  People near the middle of this trading chain, who made neither spears nor axes, acted as middlemen who took a certain number of both as their middleman's profit.  The Yir Yoront men understood the laws of supply and demand and the gains from trade (Cosmides and Tooby 1992, 216-17; Sharp 1952).

It is true that foraging bands show communal sharing of resources--particularly, in the sharing of meat--which Marxist anthropologists have interpreted as a primitive form of communism.  But as Cosmides and Tooby indicate, this sharing is not general or indiscriminate.  Foragers share meat brought back to camp by hunters for "variance reduction."  Success in hunting wild game depends not just on skill and effort but also on luck.  Even good hunters often come back from a day of hunting without any meat.  To protect themselves against the risk of having no meat, successful hunters share their meat, with the understanding that when they are unsuccessful, they will be the beneficiaries of sharing.  But those who try to cheat--those who take the shared meat but never reciprocate by sharing the meat they have procured--are punished by expulsion from the meat sharing system.  As some anthropologists have noted, this is like a system of commercial insurance where losses are shared among many individuals to reduce the risk to each.  By contrast, the gathering of wild plants does not show such variance.  Those who make any effort to gather plants usually return to camp with some food.  Consequently, foragers share their plant food within their families but not with others outside the family (Cashdan 1989; Cosmides and Tooby 1992, 212-17).

Tooby and Cosmides think this evolved psychology for sharing to reduce variance in resources due to luck explains political attitudes about social welfare programs.  Modern social welfare institutions involving millions of people who are non-kin and personally unknown to one another are modern cultural inventions that did not exist in ancient foraging societies.  But the evolved human psychology for systems of exchange shaped in foraging societies is still manifest in the political opinions about welfare programs.  Around the world, people support welfare for needy individuals suffering from bad luck who are willing to find jobs; but people are less inclined to help individuals who are identified as cheaters or free-riders who do not deserve public aid (Peterson et al. 2012; Peterson 2015, 2016).

Sometimes Cosmides and Tooby imply that if they can explain the extended forms of modern cooperation (such as social welfare programs) through a specialized forager psychology (such as sharing for variance reduction), this shows there is no need for an explanation through cultural group selection.  But the proponents of cultural group selection have argued that evolutionary psychology and cultural group selection are not alternatives but rather complements.  The very possibility of cultural group selection depends on human beings having evolved instincts for learning culture.  And intergroup competition will favor those group-beneficial cultural traits--social norms, beliefs, and practices--that conform most closely to our evolved psychology (Henrich and Boyd 2016; Richerson et al. 2016, 49-50).  So, for instance, one could predict that social welfare programs that satisfy the evolved psychological propensity to punish cheaters will fare better than social welfare programs that frustrate this propensity.

Actually, even Cosmides and Tooby have admitted that evolutionary biology requires multi-level explanations that are complementary rather than contradictory.  They have observed: "In evolutionary biology, there are several different levels of explanation that are complementary and mutually compatible.  Explanation at one level (e.g., adaptive function) does not preclude or invalidate explanations at another (e.g., neural, cognitive, social, cultural, economic)" (Cosmides and Tooby 1997, 14).

Tooby's argument in 2014 that the concept of "culture" has no proper place in evolutionary science contradicts what he and Cosmides have written about cultural evolution.  They have said that "we are not abandoning the classic concept of culture" (Tooby and Cosmides 1992, 118).  They do propose, however, decomposing the traditional concept of culture into three kinds of culture (Tooby and Cosmides 1992, 121).  First, "metaculture" is their term for the cross-cultural regularities in human life that correspond to universal human nature, which make it possible for human beings to understand cultures beyond their own, without which cultural anthropology would be impossible.

Second, "evoked culture" arises when local circumstances trigger specific mechanisms of evolved human psychology in individual minds that create cultural representations without any transmission of cultural contents from other individuals.  They explain this through the metaphor of evolved humans as being like juke boxes identically designed with thousands of songs, and with devices designed to select songs on the basis of the juke box's location, time, and date.  (OK, I know that you young folks out there have no understanding of juke boxes, unless you've watched the cable TV reruns of Happy Days.)  This would create a global pattern of song cultures with cultural similarity within each group and cultural diversity between the groups.  This could generate the patterns of culture that we see without any social learning or transmission of culture from one generation to the next.  But they admit that "the juke box thought experiment is an unrealistically extreme case in which a complex, functionally organized, content-sensitive architecture internalizes no transmitted informational input other than an environmental trigger" (Tooby and Cosmides 1992, 117). Proponents of cultural group selection recognize evoked cultural responses to the environment as psychological switches that cultural group selection could harness (Henrich and Boyd 2016).

As I have indicated in a previous post, Tooby and Cosmides explain both socialism and capitalism as "evoked culture": socialism appeals to us today by evoking the evolved rules of sharing for risk pooling, while capitalism evokes the evolved system of cooperation through social exchange or trade.  Socialism fails because the rules evolved for sharing among small bands of hunters for which the rules were adaptive, but these rules are maladaptive for large modern societies in which people are interacting anonymously with thousands or millions of people.  Capitalism succeeds because the rules of the evolved cognitive system for social exchange can reach far beyond individual perception through the globally extended order of markets, and thus the evolved rules for social exchange can be adaptive both for small foraging bands and for modern mass societies.

The third form of culture recognized by Tooby and Cosmides is the "epidemiological culture" that is transmitted by social learning both within each generation of individuals and across the generations, which is a fundamental part of cultural group selection.

So Tooby, Cosmides, and the other evolutionary psychologists don't reject the idea of culture as such.  But they do reject the idea of culture if it is grounded on a "blank slate" view of the human mind that denies human nature--the idea that the human mind has no (or very little) content of its own except for whatever content has been imposed on it by the external cultural environment.  Richerson seemed to confirm that this fear of the "blank slate" version of cultural theory is warranted when he argued in 2014 that the concept of human nature should be discarded.

But then Richerson contradicts himself when he says that cultural group selection does not defend a "blank slate hypothesis," because cultural evolution is enabled and constrained by the universal human nature of evolved social instincts for learning (Richerson et al. 2016, 6, 49-51).

My conclusion from all of this is that an evolutionary science of social order requires a multi-leveled analysis of the interaction of natural history (evolutionary psychology) and cultural history (cultural group selection).

Even that is not enough, however, because we need a third level--biographical history (the evolved personality and life history of self-interested individuals who are agents of cultural change acting through coercion or persuasion).  In many animal groups, we can see how dominant individuals shape the social norms for the group.  For example, dominant macaques police conflicts in ways that protect their dominance while reducing conflict within the group (Flack et al. 2005, 2006).  This is surely true for human beings as well.  Consider, for instance, how the cultural history of the United States was altered by the dominant individuals in the American Continental Congress that drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence, or those in the Constitutional Convention who drafted and promoted the Constitution of 1787.  What we need here is an agent-based theory of how "self-interested agents create, maintain, and modify group functional culture" (Singh, Glowacki, and Wrangham 2016).

Part of this evolutionary biographical history would include the biological study of animal personalities and the individual psychology of cultural leaders--including moral, religious, political, and intellectual leaders.  Some of my posts on this can be found here and here.

In future posts, I will have more to say about applying cultural group selection and evolutionary psychology to Hayek's evolutionary science of capitalism and the liberal order.


REFERENCES

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