The Methodology of Evolutionary Economics
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Publication date: 2013-06-30
GNPJE 2013;264(5-6):5-17
The article aims to identify and analyze some basic methodological problems related to a rapidly developing approach to economics known as evolutionary economics. The author examines how this approach is likely to evolve in the future and what research potential it holds for modern economics. According to the author, evolutionary economics is fraught with a number of methodological difficulties. He describes evolutionary economics as classically endogenous in nature. Evolutionary economics seeks to explain processes related to the internal transformation of knowledge about decision-making, production methods, organizational forms of business, consumer behavior and business psychology. In the neoclassical approach, all these parameters are treated as constant, while in evolutionary economics they are subject to analysis, proceeding from the assumption that they change as a result of evolutionary processes, the author says. The mechanism of this evolution is the main focus of evolutionary economics. Therefore, when analyzing economic systems, evolutionary economists focus their attention on changes and new elements, Glapiński says. The main methodological difficulty related to defining the research focus of evolutionary economics is that this approach needs to be set apart from other scientific disciplines studying economic and evolutionary processes, such as sociology, social anthropology, economic history, institutional economics, social psychology, evolutionary psychology, behavioral biology, and evolutionary biology. Evolutionary economics is concerned with the dynamics of past and present processes as well as with the organization and functioning of economies, in particular the origin and functioning of the Western model of capitalism. Evolutionary economists seek to explain economic events by making references to past events and finding causal relationships applying to behaviors as well as the transformation of behaviors and institutions. Evolutionary economists make assumptions about economic factors and actors, including those about irreversible and spontaneous changes in behavior. These assumptions mean that evolutionary economics has a purely empirical orientation, the author says, and, consequently, its main weakness is that it is difficult to derive simple mathematical models from these assumptions. This breeds a number of further methodological problems. One of them is that evolutionary economics has low capacity for formulating falsified hypotheses, which reduces its credibility and status, according to Glapiński – at least under the widely followed Popperian interpretation of the “scientificality” of theories (Austrian-born British philosopher and economist Karl Popper is known for his attempt to repudiate the classical observationalist/inductivist form of the scientific method in favor of empirical falsification). Another reason for the criticism against evolutionary economics is that evolutionary theories are eclectic in nature, Glapiński says. This stems from the fact that economic evolution is related to evolutionary processes lying outside the economic system, which prompts attempts by economists to enter “neighboring” disciplines. Yet another weakness results from the basically empiricist and historicist nature of research in evolutionary economics, the author says, which often leads to a situation in which there is no clear distinction between economic theory and economic/business history. These methodological weaknesses and theoretical difficulties explain why a number of competitive theoretical syntheses have emerged over the last century, Glapiński says. Over the past decade or so, evolutionary economics has departed from the kind of synthesis pursued by the precursors of evolutionism, according to the author. He concludes that evolutionary economics has good prospects for development resulting from the dynamic development of detailed studies of evolutionary processes in various areas of industry, services and consumption as well as from research into the development of export markets and consumer behavior.
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