445 pages, no illustrations
From humans to hermit crabs to deep water plankton, all living things compete for locally limiting resources. This universal truth unites three bodies of thought--economics, evolution, and history--that have developed largely in mutual isolation. Here, Geerat Vermeij undertakes a groundbreaking and provocative exploration of the facts and theories of biology, economics, and geology to show how processes common to all economic systems--competition, cooperation, adaptation, and feedback--govern evolution as surely as they do the human economy, and how historical patterns in both human and nonhuman evolution follow from this principle.
Using a wealth of examples of evolutionary innovations, Vermeij argues that evolution and economics are one. Powerful consumers and producers exercise disproportionate controls on the characteristics, activities, and distribution of all life forms. Competition-driven demand by consumers, when coupled with supply-side conditions permitting economic growth, leads to adaptation and escalation among organisms. Although disruptions in production halt or reverse these processes temporarily, they amplify escalation in the long run to produce trends in all economic systems toward greater power, higher production rates, and a wider reach for economic systems and their strongest members.
Despite our unprecedented power to shape our surroundings, we humans are subject to all the economic principles and historical trends that emerged at life's origin more than 3 billion years ago. Engagingly written, brilliantly argued, and sweeping in scope, Nature: An Economic History shows that the human institutions most likely to preserve opportunity and adaptability are, after all, built like successful living things.
Novel and intriguing... [Nature: An Economic History] offers a distinctive point of view and an insightful synthesis that promises to provide the basis of much future work. -- Douglas H. Erwin Science Vermeij is one of the master naturalists of our time, and his command of the subtleties of animal interactions is exceptional. I think anyone can learn a great deal from this book. -- Richard K. Bambach American Scientist Vermeij, a well-known paleontologist and observer of nature writ large, has written a marvelously interdisciplinary work that makes an important contribtuion to the literature of complex adaptive systems... [R]eaders who are interested in multidisciplinary issues will benefit from Vermeij's impressive breadth of knowledge. It is a pleasure to follow his articulate and synthesizing trek across the boundaries of conventional academic subjects. -- Eric J. Chaisson Quarterly Review of Biology There are clear analogies between economics and biological evolution, but the thesis of this articulate essay is that both fields can and should be described in exactly the same terms in a single theoretical framework... In successive chapters describing consumption of resources, competition, organization, environment and geography, evolutionary biologist Vermeij illustrates, with copious examples from paleontology, ecology, and economic history, the overarching common description of competition for locally scarce resources and differential success based on variation, leading to evolving adaptations and descent with modification. Choice Geerat Vermeij ... has taken economic reasoning even further, arguing in Nature: An Economic History that economists and natural scientists are asking the same kinds of questions in their seemingly disparate fields... Vermeij makes a convincing case that thinking about large swaths of the natural world in terms of competition for scarce resources is both accurate and useful. -- Andrew P. Morriss Books & Culture
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