Charles Darwin The Economist

October 18, 2011 | Los Angeles Times |

Natural selection explains more about economics than Adam Smith's invisible hand.

With good reason, most contemporary economists regard Adam Smith as the founder of their discipline. But I would instead accord that honor to Charles Darwin, the pioneering naturalist.

Although Darwin had no formal training in economics, he studied the works of early economists carefully, and the plants and animals that were his focus were embroiled in competitive struggles much like the ones we see in the marketplace. His observations forged an understanding of competition that is subtly but profoundly different from Smith's. The celebrated invisible hand theory that Smith developed holds that unfettered markets will ultimately channel self-interest to serve the common good. But this idea is really just an interesting special case of Darwin's more general theory.