Economics from a Biological Viewpoint Author(s): Jack Hirshleifer Source: Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Apr., 1977), pp. 1-52 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/725086 Accessed: 28/09/2010 11:31
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ECONOMICS FROM A BIOLOGICAL VIEWPOINT*
J. HIRSHLEIFERUniversity of California, Los Angeles
THE field variously called population biology, sociobiology, or ecology is concerned to explain the observed interrelations among the various forms of life–organisms, species, and broader groupings and communities-and between forms of life and their external environments. The subject includes both material aspects of theseinterrelations (the geographical distributions of species in relation to one another, their respective numbers, physical properties like size differences between the sexes) and behavioral aspects (why some species are territorial while others flock, why some are monogamous and others polygamous, why some are aggressive and others shy). From one point of view, the various social sciences devoted to thestudy of mankind, taken together, constitute but a subdivision of the allencompassing field of sociobiology.1 The ultimately biological subject matter of economics in particular has been recognized by some of our leading thinkers.2 There is however a special link between economics and sociobiology over and above the mere fact that economics studies a subset of the social behavior of one of the highermammals. The fundamental organizing con* Thanks for comments and suggestions, far too numerous and important to be fully responded to here, are due to: Armen Alchian, Shmuel Amir, Edward C. Banfield, Gary Becker, Eric L. Charnov, Ronald Cohen, Harold Demsetz, Michael Ghiselin, Joel Guttman, Bruce Herrick, Gertrude Himmelfarb, David Levine, John G. Riley, Vernon L. Smith, Robert Trivers, and JamesWeinrich. See chapter 27 of E. O. Wilson’s authoritative text Sociobiology (1975) [hereinafter cited as Sociobiology], and also id., Biology and the Social Sciences, Daedalus (forthcoming). 2 « But economics has no near kinship with any physical science. It is a branch of biology broadly interpreted. » Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics 772 (9th Variorum ed. 1920). See also Kenneth E.Boulding, A Reconstruction of Economics ch. 1 (1950). Also relevant, of course, are the famous passages in The Wealth of Nations where Adam Smith attributed the emergence of the division of labor among mankind, and its failure to develop among animal species, to a supposedly innate human « propensity to truck, barter, and exchange. » Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of…