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The Darwin Economy

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The Darwin Economy

Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good

Princeton UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

America’s economy needs a government that functions without gridlock.

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Philosopher Adam Smith himself was skeptical about the real-world results of his “invisible hand,” but you’d never know it by the way modern-day free market fundamentalists try to push every regulation out of the way. As Cornell economist Robert H. Frank notes in his assault on the ideological force field that has blocked much US government action, naturalist Charles Darwin identified the problem: Evolutionary incentives benefit individuals, not groups. Frank uses that insight to argue that government must abridge some personal gains for the greater good. Frank is an economics professor, and his book sometimes falls into a challenging didacticism. But he writes with admirable clarity and verve, and – while his prediction that the world will one day recognize Darwin as the father of economics is perhaps a reach – he has done nothing less than provide a fresh intellectual foundation for progressivism. While always politically neutral, getAbstract recommends Frank’s treatise to lawmakers, economists, historians and civic-minded professionals who are concerned with the large questions society must tackle.



The past several decades have seen a decline in Americans’ standard of living. Societal crises exist throughout the United States: wage stagnation, a widening disparity between rich and poor, crumbling infrastructure, a potentially fatal denial of climate change, and a refusal to spend in order to relieve unemployment and revive the economy. Yet political gridlock – accompanied by a persistent yet erroneous belief that government is the cause of all problems – halts any action or solution. This inertia is rooted in a basic failure to grasp the true nature of competition.

Libertarians, who object to all regulations, fail to realize that individual and collective interests don’t always mesh. An entirely unshackled market can’t be equally prosperous and beneficial for everyone. Some shackles are good, but government can prevent harm more effectively through taxation than through regulation.

Smith’s Discovery and Darwin’s Insight

Influential 18th-century philosopher Adam Smith posited that businesspeople’s self-interest benefited society through the agency of an “invisible hand.” Smith, however, did not believe that this self-interest always led to...

About the Author

Robert H. Frank is a professor of economics at Cornell University and a frequent New York Times columnist. His books include The Economic Naturalist.

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    S. R. 10 years ago
    He is a frigging IDIOT.... Correct that.... He is INTELLECTUAL IDIOT with Tenure!!!
  • Avatar
    J. M. 1 decade ago
    It's the extreme case of not spending and just saving realy good for the group benefit?
    or the consumption tax finally will harm the society?

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