[OPE-L:3076] Re: Okishio and mathematical Economics

Michael Williams (100417.2625@compuserve.com)
Sat, 21 Sep 1996 14:48:10 -0700 (PDT)

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First, apologies to anyone awaiting responses from me to postings over the last
few months - they will come. However, not in any kind of strict chronological
queue. And here is my first queue jumping effort.

In a discussion on 'eliminationist' groundings for behavioural assumption, in
response to Stephen, Allin writes:

couldn't one say that the unit of selection is the
"business strategy" -- a particular example of what Dawkins calls
"memes". That is, some strategies (including particular time-horizons
for calculation, particular preferred measures of profitability, etc)
tend to undergo expanded reproduction at the expense of others, in
the sense that the fraction of the total social capital under the
guidance of strategy X grows while the fraction under the control
of some alternative Y shrinks. But this may differ across
national capitalisms (to some degree) and may be in part
dependent on the nature of the financial system -- i.e., what
sort of capitalist behaviours and modes of calculation are
rewarded/punished by the suppliers of financial capital?

Michael W:
I am sceptical about the robustness of the analogy between evolutionary biology
and sociobiology. Specifically:
1. What independent argument or evidence is their to support the existence of
Genetic structure, DNA and all that provides a robust causal mechanism
for random heritable variation and natural selection in biology, because we have
strong empirical evidence for their existence, independent of the role they play
in biological evolution. (I speak as a lay person, of course.) Do we have even
an inkling of some coding of things like 'business strategies' onto a 'memetic
structure' as a result of random heritable variation and 'social' selection?

2. Neither types of behaviour nor social institutions have exhibited anything
like the degree of variation, diversity of 'species' nor stability of
environment common in biology. The development of strategies and institutions
surely also involves a strong rational-purposive element.

3. Of course, 'evolutionary stable strategies' exist abstractly in
game-theoretic models, (cf a very recent query by Jerry about the above passage)
and their replication in closed economic 'experiments'. But what reason do we
have to believe in their existence in the open concrete system that is the real
social world?

4. The complexity of Allin's exemplary 'meme' indicates the difficulties:even
the restricted sample of various attributes you predicate of a 'business
strategy' can be packaged in umpteen different ways, and there is no simple
analogue of 'reproductive success' which will accrue to agents (also complex in
being 'firms' not genetic individuals) which have (purposively not purely
randomly) adopted a particular strategy. And all the while the proximate
socio-economic environment is itself changing. It is difficult to see how one,
or even a few discrete 'behavioural strategies' will have time to be selected
out before they have been made obsolescent by changes in the rules of the games,
and in the other players strategies.

5. Introducing the generally purposive behaviour of financial capital further
undermines the relevance of putative 'evolutionary' mechanisms, which are
fundamentally non-intentional.

6. Finally, Marxism of course needs some account of how agents collectively are
systematically 'structured' into types of actions that reproduce the capitalist
system, and more broadly, the bourgeois epoch. But that does not mean that we
need to adopt uncritically either of the 'invisible hand/untended consequences'
mechanisms favoured by bourgeois economics - intentional rational choice and
social evolution. The best attempt I know of to date is Tony Smith's notion of
structural conditioning of agents dispositions, propensities and tendencies so
that their actions reproduce and/or transform those same structures. There is
obviously room for concretizing these mechanisms.

Dr Michael Williams
"Books are Weapons"