Most of the chapters in this volume are concerned with the application of the Darwinian evolutionary metaphor to the development and changes that take place over time in economic systems, or in components of economic systems such as business firms and industries. An entire economy may be viewed as an evolving system, with Schumpeterian innovations serving as one of its mutational mechanisms (Schumpeter, 1934); or the competition among firms in an industry may be described in terms of mechanisms for the ‘survival of the most profitable’ and their implications and consequences (Nelson and Winter, 1982). These and related ways of applying the ideas of evolution to economic theory are well represented among the authors of other chapters.
The goal of this chapter is quite different. It is not concerned with the extension of an evolutionary metaphor to economics but with the direct influence of the processes of neo-Darwinian biological evolution upon the characteristics of the individual human actors in the economy, and, through these characteristics, the influence of biological evolution upon the operation of the economy. The focus will be on motivation: first, I will ask whether we can find any strong implications of evolutionary mechanisms, and – in particular – selection for fitness, for the motivational systems of economic actors; then, I will try to trace out the effects on economic behaviour of the motivational systems that evolutionary theory predicts will be selected.
The centre of our attention will be altruism and its role in economic behaviour.