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Complexity and EvolutionToward a New Synthesis for Economics$
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David S Wilson and Alan Kirman

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035385

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035385.001.0001

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(p.1) 1 Introduction
Complexity and Evolution

David S. Wilson

Alan Kirman

Julia Lupp

The MIT Press

How are we to understand economic institutions that are comprised of multiple, interacting individuals who operate on various spatial and temporal scales, all of which are impacted by a myriad of factors? Economics has based its efforts largely on general equilibrium theory, yet this dominant paradigm has two fundamental flaws: it assumes that economic systems are at equilibrium and utilizes Homo economicus (a fictitious being) to define preferences, behavior, and abilities. Because these assumptions deviate so drastically from reality, there is doubt whether incremental changes can ever render it effective. Thus, alternative approaches have emerged. Evolutionary theory has brought novel insight to explain the behavior of individuals and institutions, and complexity theory has provided context to understand economies as complex adaptive systems. To permit greater understanding of economics and public policy, this Ernst Strüngmann Forum explored the integration of concepts from complexity theory and evolutionary theory. The hope was that this discourse would spur a synthesis and lead to the creation of a new economic framework—one capable of modeling economic systems as complexly adaptive and frequently out of equilibrium, based on the preferences, behavior, and abilities of real human beings and the diverse processes involved.

Keywords:   Strüngmann Forum Reports, complex adaptive systems, complex systems theory, equilibrium, evolutionary theory, general equilibrium theory, Homo economicus, multilevel selection theory

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