This is very strange. It’s a discussion on PBS — the Public Broadcasting Service — about Charles Darwin and economics. Reading the transcript (there’s also a video we haven’t watched) gives the impression of watching a pair of vegetarians discussing the best way to cook a steak. They may have some information, but they just can’t deal with it.
The PBS show is titled Was Charles Darwin the Father of Economics as Well? Below the video is a summary:
What does the work of Charles Darwin have to do with economics? As part of his reporting on Making Sen$e [sic] of financial news, Paul Solman talks to Robert H. Frank, author of “The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good,” about the connection between economics and the father of evolution.
Your humble Curmudgeon has previously written a time or two about this subject. See Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand and Charles Darwin’s Natural Selection. There we said:
It has often been remarked that the theory of evolution, according to which life on earth evolves without the guidance of a designer, is remarkably similar to the way a free-enterprise economy develops, with each enterprise doing its best to prosper, yet without the “benefit” of a centralized planner.
We also wrote what is perhaps our favorite: Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Barack Obama, in which we said:
We suggest that Silicon Valley emerged in the complete absence of any stimulus package. Indeed, it probably emerged because there was no such package. Silicon Valley’s nurturing environment was a mix of entrepreneurial activity, venture capital financing, and an unregulated market. What we now know as Silicon Valley emerged without centralized planning — there was no “intelligent designer.”
Okay, you know what we think — Darwin’s undirected mechanism of natural selection is strikingly analogous to the free enterprise economy described by Adam Smith, who said:
[E]very individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. … [H]e intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.
Now let’s see what PBS says about this subject. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
PAUL SOLMAN: There’s an idea war being waged over American economics. The left contends that greed and the market have become malign influences which must be brought to heel. The right, which blames government for most of what ails us, has a more positive view of greed.
Yeah, “greed.” Let’s read on:
ROBERT FRANK: The self-serving actions of greedy individuals will be channeled by market forces to produce the greatest good for all.
Greed, greed, greed. We continue:
PAUL SOLMAN: And so the right swears by the simple, invisible hand of free market competition, summed up here in simplistic graphics perhaps, but 18th century British thinker Adam Smith’s own timeless words. [Quoting Adam Smith:] “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
That’s a correct statement. Here’s more:
ROBERT FRANK: A hundred years from now, if people poll professional economists, people like me, and ask, who’s the founder of your discipline, most people are going to say Charles Darwin.
Maybe, but it won’t be Frank who convinces anyone. You’ll see. Moving along:
PAUL SOLMAN: Thus, the invisible hand of natural selection promotes the survival of the individual and the prosperity of the species. In economic terms, this is the greatest good for the greatest number, the grand achievements of a market economy, made possible by competitive individuals like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, or Steve Jobs.
These guys get some things right. And then they go off the tracks:
PAUL SOLMAN: Frank’s line of thinking continued to evolve. The winners were separating from the rest in almost every field, and their sky-high pay was fueling “Luxury Fever,” his 1999 book where he warned of competitive, conspicuous consumption among the super-rich, taunting and tempting us all.
An extremely insignificant and therefore stupid observation. Another excerpt:
ROBERT FRANK: There’s no question but that we’re in the midst of another Gilded Age. The robber barons had accumulated great wealth, and they spent it in very visible ways. The cyber-barons of today have accumulated great wealth, and they’re spending it in visible ways.
PAUL SOLMAN: Ways so visible that those down the ladder began emulating them. And that’s the downside of conspicuous competition, says Frank. With humans, as with other animals, the survival of the so-called fittest may come at a cost to the species as a whole.
That’s enough. These guys don’t get it. As the Discoveroids worship the “invisible hand” in biology, oblivious to the fact that Darwin explained it away, so too do the geniuses at PBS cling to the belief that free enterprise must be forcibly guided, being likewise oblivious to the fact that Adam Smith thought otherwise.
Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.