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Evolutionary psychology, economic freedom, trade and benevolence

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Abstract

Our thesis is that the reason many of us today are inclined toward socialism (explicit cooperation) and against laissez-faire capitalism (implicit cooperation) is because the first type of behavior was much more genetically beneficial during previous generations of our species. There is, however, a seemingly strong argument against this hypothesis: evidence from human prehistory indicates that trade (implicit cooperation) previously was widespread. How, then, can we be hard-wired in favor of socialism and against capitalism if our ancestors were engaged in market behavior in past millennia? Although trade which is self-centered and beneficial (presumably mutually beneficial to all parties in the exchange) did indeed appear hundreds of thousands of years ago, benevolence was established in our hard-wiring very substantially earlier, literally hundreds of millions of years ago, and is therefore far more deeply integrated into the human psyche.
Review of Economic Perspectives rodohospodářský obzor
Vol. 19, Issue 2, 2019, pp. 7394, DOI: 10.2478/revecp-2019-0005
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Evolutionary psychology, economic freedom, trade
and benevolence
John Levendis,
1
Robert B. Eckhardt,
2
Walter Block
3
Abstract: Our thesis is that the reason many of us today are inclined toward socialism
(explicit cooperation) and against laissez-faire capitalism (implicit cooperation) is be-
cause the first type of behavior was much more genetically beneficial during previous
generations of our species. There is, however, a seemingly strong argument against this
hypothesis: evidence from human prehistory indicates that trade (implicit cooperation)
previously was widespread. How, then, can we be hard-wired in favor of socialism and
against capitalism if our ancestors were engaged in market behavior in past millennia?
Although trade which is self-centered and beneficial (presumably mutually beneficial to
all parties in the exchange) did indeed appear hundreds of thousands of years ago, be-
nevolence was established in our hard-wiring very substantially earlier, literally hun-
dreds of millions of years ago, and is therefore far more deeply integrated into the hu-
man psyche.
Keywords: Benevolence, capitalism, evolutionary psychology, hard-wiring, profit and
loss, selfishness
JEL Classification: Z1, Z10, Z14
Received: 25 June 2018 / Accepted: 10 April 2019 / Sent for Publication: 13 June 2019
Introduction
Why do the overwhelming majority of people reflexively turn to government, rather
than private enterprise, to solve perceived social ills? Why does so much of the elec-
torate favor the minimum wage law to fight poverty? Why are tariffs so popular? Why
have we learned so little or nothing from the failures of North Korea, East Germany, the
USSR, Venezuela and Cuba that we would apply their failed economic philosophy to
ourselves? Our explanation is based on evolutionary considerations: we are hard-wired
in the opposite direction of economic freedom. This is why, taking the complete prehis-
1
Associate Professor of Economics at Loyola University New Orleans, USA.
2
Professor of Developmental Genetics and Evolutionary Morphology at Pennsylvania State
University, USA.
3
Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola Uni-
versity New Orleans, USA. The corresponding author, he may be reached at wblock@loyno.edu.
Review of Economic Perspectives
74
tory and history of the world over the entire globe, there have been so few episodes of
freedom, laissez-faire capitalism, and liberty.
It might be noted at this point that it sometimes is questioned whether in fact there are
biases in favor of socialism rather than capitalism. This is not a simple matter, because
it can turn on complexities over ownership of the means of production versus control
over more egalitarian distribution of goods and services regardless of their formal own-
ership, on the one hand, the temporal frame of reference that is used, and whether one is
referring to the number of people governed or the number of countries in which they
live. For the purposes of this paper it is sufficient to note that within about a century and
a half of the time that the term “socialism” was coined, about 60% of the human popula-
tion (not necessarily the number of national entities) were living under one or another
form of socialist governance (Muravchik 1999, 2003).
More recently in the United States (a supposed bastion of free markets and economic
liberalism) the Libertarian Party usually polls around 1% for Presidential elections. The
Libertarian party reached 3% in the 2016 elections (between Donald Trump and Hillary
Clinton), an election which almost saw Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders upset Hil-
lary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. Presently, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leads a
strong socialist-leaning movement within the Democratic Party. The socialist ethos has
attained broad geographical extent, historical persistence, and current relevance in a
way that economic liberalism/free markets/Libertarianism has not.
“Hard wiring” explanations imply bases that are rooted at least partly in biology, and
not entirely in culture. Our paper, then, can be seen as part of an ongoing critique of the
Standard Social Science Model, which takes the opposite point of view (Pinker, 1994,
2002; Brown, 1991; Degler, 1991; Barkow, Tooby and Cosmides, 1992).
Here is a very powerful argument in favor of biological as opposed to cultural explana-
tions of modern human behavior:
It is a curious fact about the intellectual history of the past few centuries that
physical and mental developments have been approached in quite different
ways. No one would take seriously the proposal that the human organism
learns through experience to have arms rather than wings, or that the basic
structure of particular organs results from accidental experience. Rather, it is
taken for granted that the physical structure of the organism is genetically de-
termined, though of course variation along such dimensions as size, and so
forth will depend in part on external factors ….
The development of personality, behavior patterns, and cognitive structures in
higher organisms has often been approached in a very different way. It is gen-
erally assumed that in these domains, the social environment is the dominant
factor. The structures of the mind that develop over time are taken to be arbi-
trary and accidental; there is no ‘human nature’ apart from what develops as a
specific historical product …
But human cognitive systems, when seriously investigated, prove to be no less
marvelous and intricate than the physical structures that develop in the life of
the organism. Why, then, should we not study the acquisition of a cognitive
structure such as language more or less as we study some complex bodily or-
gan? (Chomsky, 1975)
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75
In section II of our paper, we claim that there are evolutionary reasons that can explain
these undeniable facts. There are only two ways to cooperate with each other: Explicitly,
through benevolence or central direction, or implicitly, through markets. We maintain
that humans are hard wired through evolution for the first, but not, or at least not to
anything like a comparable extent, for the second. In section III where we discuss what
primate practice and morality can tell us about capitalism, we present evidence that
early Homo sapiens traded with each other. There is evidence for long-distance ex-
change of materials as well as mining before 100,000 years ago (McBrearty and Brooks,
2000; Thompson, 2014). The burden of section IV is to reconcile the contradictions
between these two preceding parts, sections II and III. Our contention is that we are
more hard wired for benevolence, since as the species Homo sapiens we share this as
part of our common mammalian heritage dating back about a hundred million years, and
less hard wired for markets, which we attained only roughly a thousand-fold later,
around several hundred thousand years ago. In terms of genetic evolution, the potential
for an additional thousand-fold multiplier (5,000 to 10,000 human generations) is mean-
ingful.
2. Evolutionary psychology
Evolutionary psychology
4
is the theory that certain aspects of present-day human behav-
ior can be explained to some significant extent on the basis of what types of actions
were conducive to survival, and thus to transmitting genetic material in the next genera-
tion, over hundreds of thousands of years.
5
States Hayek (1988, p. 11): “… man’s instincts … were not made for the kinds of sur-
roundings, and for the numbers, in which he now lives. They were adapted to life in the
small roving bands or troops in which the human race and its immediate ancestors
evolved during the few millions years while the biological constitution of homo sapiens
[sic: Homo sapiens] was being formed.”
6
In this paper we utilize the explanatory framework of evolutionary psychology, and
draw upon evidence afforded by archeology and evolutionary biology, in an attempt to
account for why many people find attractive such phenomena as government interven-
tion, regulation, control, and socialism, while very few people favor laissez-faire capi-
talism; why it is so difficult to explain to laymen that rent control, minimum wages and
protectionist interferences with free trade are not only uneconomical but also immoral;
why profit maximization and price gouging are dirty words in many of our leading
4
On this see Dusek (undated), but also see Griffiths (undated), Horton (2010), Webster (2007).
5
For a representative sample of this school of thought, see Axelrod (1984), Axelrod and Hamilton
(1981), Dawkins (1976, 1986, 1995), Field (2004), Ghiselin (1978, 1987A, 1987b), Pinker (1994,
1997, 2004), and Wilson (1975).
6
For more in the vein, see Cantor (2013), Lichter, Lichter and Rothman (1991), Lichter, Rothman
and Lichter (1986), Reed (2017) and Rothman, Nevitte, and Lichter (2005).
Review of Economic Perspectives
76
circles; why Smith’s (1776) “invisible hand” is not much relied upon amongst pundits,
clergy, sociologists, social scientists and others invincibly ignorant of economics.
7
Let us consider an example of a sociobiological insight. As a thought experiment, con-
sider two hypothetical tribes, A and B. In the former case, males confront and drive off
or fight any large predators that threaten their group. In the latter, it is women who
might be imagined to provide such defense. Biologically, females, not males, set the
limits on reproduction. Germany and Russia both suffered heavy male losses in World
War II. The number of able-bodied men between the ages of 20 and 60 was dangerously
reduced. And, yet, it was as if this was not the case as far as numbers of births in the
next generation from both these countries were concerned. Imagine if it was the women
from Germany and Russia who fought and sustained this level of casualties. Then, there
would have been a greatly reduced next generation in these two nations. Thus, tribes
such as B are at an evolutionary disadvantage and we are less likely to have descended
from them. As a result, we are more likely to be hard-wired for male aggression, with
males protecting females, who in turn necessarily nurtured infants and children, etc.
What does all this have to do with the widespread rejection of free enterprise? Before
we get into that, let us consider one objection to this hypothesis: we have had episodes
of laissez-faire capitalism in our history. If we were biologically conditioned against
such a code of living, how can these events have occurred? For example, with the sali-
ent exception of slavery, the economic system of the U.S. while not perfectly attuned to
7
There are other explanations for this phenomenon, but, in our opinion, insights from evolution-
ary biology offer the greatest understanding. What other hypotheses are there? One of them is the
“seen versus the unseen” (Bastiat, 1845, 1964A, 1964b; Hazlitt, 1946). When government taxes
people and builds a highway or battleship, we can all see these items; but, we cannot see the
thousands of air conditioners, toasters, wrist watches, haircuts and other goods and services that
could have been created with these monies, but were not. Another explanation is the time dimen-
sion: when a minimum wage is inaugurated, people do not lose their jobs the very next minute or
even day; sometimes it takes months for the employer to rearrange matters so that all those with
marginal revenue products below the level specified by this law are fired. So, the minimum wage
law is credited for raising wages, but not debited for promoting unemployment. See on this:
Becker, 1995; Burkhauser, Couch, Wittenburg, 1996; Deere, Murphy and Welch, 1995; Gallaway
and Adie, 1995; Hazlitt, 1946; Landsburg, 2004; Neumark and Wascher, 1992, 1995; Sowell,
1995. Here is Foster’s (2014) explanation: “why haven’t our moral sentiments evolved to appre-
ciate capitalism…? One key reason is that, under capitalism, people can have their cake and con-
demn it too. We don’t have to understand how markets work to thrive within them any more than
we need to read and absorb a book on biology in order to stay alive. Although we are natural
traders, we are born reflexively to believe in simplistic centrally-planned solutions, and that local
preference and self-sufficiency are ‘good.’ Similarly, many of the processes and results of capital-
ism are objectionable to moral sentiments that were formed in a very different environment from
that in which we now live, an environment where wealth and oppressive power tended to go
together. The even more significant reason why the lessons of bad policy are not ‘learned’ is that
economic ignorance and outdated moral assumptions are effortlessly indeed largely subcon-
sciously promoted and exploited by power seekers. Inequality demands redistribution. Corpo-
rate power requires ‘countervailing’ power. Economies require ‘managing.’ The world needs
saving.”
Volume 19, Issue 2, 2019
77
economic freedom, was a reasonable facsimile of such from its inception to at least the
progressive period in the late 19th century (Kolko, 1963; Hughes, 1977). And, too, Eng-
land during its industrial revolution at least approached this ideal. Other historical coun-
ter examples to our thesis include ancient Ireland (Peden, 1977), ancient Iceland
(Friedman, 1979; Long, 1994; Solvason, 1992), and modern day Singapore and Hong
Kong (Gwartney, et al. 1976), which are the economically freest countries in the mod-
ern era.
The reason we reject these instances and defend our claim that by and large humanity is
not very receptive to laissez-faire capitalism, is that these cases are too few, far apart,
involved very few people and have tended to be unenduring. Over the entire broad his-
tory of our species, these exceptions are very much in the minority. There are no cases
at all in Latin or South America, none in Africa, none on the European or Asian conti-
nents. And, even in the instances that did occur, they took place for a precious few years,
mostly in small territories, apart from the U.S.
No, the typical human response to economic freedom is instead to support tariffs, rent
control, minimum wages, government regulations, and to attack profit-seeking, price
gouging, large sized firms, profiteering, collusion, cartels, predatory price cutting, un-
derselling. Two of the authors of the present paper hail from New Orleans. In the after-
math of Hurricane Katrina, prices for flashlight batteries, candles, orange juice, milk,
water, gasoline and other such staples sky-rocketed. All economists know that the func-
tion of these changes is twofold: rationing scarce goods, so that more people have ac-
cess to limited resources, and, a call for help to the outside world to bring these items to
this beleaguered city. What was the reaction of not only the local politicians but, more
important, virtually the entire populace? It was to condemn out of hand all such price
rises as stemming from greed, selfishness, capitalism, etc. This was so heavily and
deeply ingrained, and reflexive on the part of the local population that we see it as ema-
nating, at least in large part, not only from miseducation, but, also, from biology.
8
How, then, do sociobiological considerations lead to the overwhelming human experi-
ence of dirigisme? It is because we are biologically inclined toward explicit, not implicit,
cooperation. Explicit cooperation encompasses benevolence, which is rooted in mater-
nal care, with such behaviors having depths that exceed a hundred million years. While
many mammalian groups also are structured along lines of ancient shared genetic herit-
age, in human families such structures of relationship are more explicit. In studies of the
evolutionary past, archeology has given time, depth, and detail to the knowledge of the
biology of our human species and its immediate antecedents. For roughly two million
years in the genus Homo, culture has shaped the human brain into a biological organ
increasingly capable of devising and maintaining a relatively elaborate set of complex
social relationships (Sahlins 2005), kinship and its extensions.
Recent work in cultural anthropology deals with the myriad of ways in which primary
family relationships have been broadened into these webs of kinship, real and fictive. A
priori it was possible to posit that in most cases, tribes that practiced friendliness toward
8
For a particularly piquant bit of evidence of this phenomenon, see Munger, 2007
Review of Economic Perspectives
78
their neighbors had a better chance of survival and the passing on of their genes to the
next generation, than those which did not. Within any group, if A helps B when B is sick,
and, next month, B helps A when A cannot hunt for food, then both stand a better chance
of prospering, than when each is strictly on his own. Amicable relations with bordering
tribes, cemented by the exchange of goods, would broaden the economic base and help
provide access to wider resources in the face of emergencies. Exchange of mates and
reckoning of kinship extends such simple dyads to wider webs of support sometimes
referred to as clans. So, there can be a biological payoff for this sort of compassion.
Those without any shred of it tended to die off or be supplanted by populations that had
it in greater measure.
9
Interestingly, ethnographic studies have ratified the somewhat abstract conception pre-
sented above, documenting that exchange in non-market societies is shaped by social
relationships (Sahlins 1972). In such societies, the exchange of finished goods is largely
kinship-based, and moreover varies according to the social distance of the parties in-
volved. Within the household-kinship group, the largely altruistic transactions are
marked by general reciprocity. Balanced reciprocity may take place beyond the house-
hold but within the same community. Negative reciprocity is more likely to occur with
those outside the community.
Implicit forms of cooperation, involving marketplace interactions and trade, are differ-
ent from explicit cooperation, though they can be seen as forms or extensions of nega-
tive reciprocity. In operative terms, it is not so much that the occurrence of benevolence
and friendliness imply socialism, or that hostility and warfare necessarily are associated
with the more formal market structures of capitalism. Rather, paleontological and etho-
logical studies indicate that there are webs of biological relationship that are pan-
mammalian, with increasingly elaborate forms of maternal and other nurturing behav-
iors evolving over hundreds of millions of years. Archeology and ethnology show that,
from this ancient and rich biological heritage, our own lineage within the genus Homo
emerged over about two million years ago, along the way evolving the conscious
knowledge of relatedness that comprises kinship. Ethnographic studies of human socie-
ties have shown that the degree of social distance, particularly closeness of kinship,
affects the kind of reciprocity that is practiced.
When we live in a society of millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions not to say
billions of people, it simply is impossible to cooperate with all of them, or even most of
them, directly, through anything resembling benevolence or central direction.
10
The
only way we can collaborate with any large number of people is via markets and trade.
But, to do so, we must have an appreciation of or at least be neutral toward, price
9
But not all of them. Hitlers, Maos, and Stalins have existed, and unchecked power still is covet-
ed by many who would be national leaders. Tolerance of dictatorial behavior could be evidence
that in the past force might have been needed to withstand predators of far greater strength and
speed than our forebears could handle individually, or to organize for survival against hostile
human groups, but the extension of behavioral tendencies from hunting and gathering groups to
nation states is tenuous.
10
Charity is far less extensive.
Volume 19, Issue 2, 2019
79
changes, gouging, profits, profiteering, or large-scale enterprise. But all too many peo-
ple are not so inclined. When the price of gasoline rises, as it has in many countries,
consumers often riot. When college tuition increases, as it did in Great Britain in 2010,
students take to the streets and burn cars. In many countries, when the price of bread
rises, there is apoplexy on the part of the populace. There is very little appreciation of
the role that higher prices play in the economy: rationing present stocks and calling
forth more supply. Mis-education in economics only goes so far as an explanatory vari-
able. In our view, the cause lies, also, deeper, in evolutionary biology and prehistory.
3. What primate behavior can tell us about the roots of capitalism
As already noted, humans have a heritage that is vertebrate, particularly mammalian at
its base, with all that implies about the centrality of adaptive altruism in the form of
nursing and extended care of offspring. Beyond that evolutionary foundation our own
mammalian subdivision, the taxonomic order Primates, includes a spectrum of species
that ranges from the nearly basal mammalian (controversially, tree shrews; canonically,
mouse lemurs) to the marginally proto-human, exemplified by chimpanzees (with its
two conventionally recognized species, Pan troglodytes and Pan paniscus, sharing 99.6%
of their genes in common with humans (Prüfer, et al. 2012).
Some species of the most primitive living prosimian primates (lemurs, lorises, and their
kin) are minimally social, with many living solitary lives apart from mating. But the
larger-brained monkeys, such as the New World capuchins and the Old World ma-
caques and baboons are highly social, with diversely hierarchical within-group behav-
ioral patterns that correlate broadly with habitat variation. And the great apes, including
chimpanzees, show the beginnings of what genuinely can be called proto-human behav-
ior, in the sense of regionally-differentiated traditions that are transmitted purely by
cultural, not genetic, mechanisms (McGrew, et al. 1978, Whiten et al. 1999, 2005, Bon-
nie, et al. 2007).
By studying some of these pre-human primate species, we can see what kinds of activi-
ties might have served as pre-adaptations to human behaviors reflected in the intergroup
(tribal) exchange of goods and services, trade networks, and elementary implicit capital-
ism.
As a pertinent aside, the term “pre-adaptation” often is seen as a counter-intuitive con-
cept: How could a population evolve traits that would suit it to some future condition
before the appearance of environments that could select for them? The answer is that the
anatomical or behavioral characteristic that seems in retrospect to have been suited to
the future environment evolved first as a genetic adaptation in response to some past
environment in which it also had a utility, though a somewhat different one. Inverte-
brate evolution, the limbs that dragged early tetrapod salamanders over the ground pre-
viously were the supports for fins that propelled their piscine ancestors through rivers
and ponds.
There may be uniquely human emergent behaviors, but nonetheless, they emerged from
something. And their antecedents still can be seen in the behaviors of various primate
“living fossils” that preserve stages in our pre-human ancestral past.
Review of Economic Perspectives
80
Human trade is one such emergent behavior. It is of specific interest in the context of
this paper because although it falls far before the earliest human recorded history, its
origins and approximate antiquity are documented by archeological evidence to be suf-
ficiently ancient (roughly 100,000 years or so) as to have some phylogenetic implica-
tions, while having a duration that still is a tiny fraction (about 1/1000) of fundamental
mammalian maternal and other nurturing behaviors. There is a growing amount of evi-
dence that past human groups exchanged goods with one another. By trade, in formal
terms we mean market exchange, although it has antecedents. In an informal sense,
symbiosis is an exchange. For example, cleaner-fish has a mutualistic relationship with
their hosts, exchanging dental services for food. The cleaner eats parasites and the host
fish that is cleaned gets rid of them. But this sort of exchange does not involve negotia-
tions or price setting. Nor do we mean nepotistic exchange; i.e. that which occurs
among the most closely-related (e.g. nuclear family) members of the same species. For
example, in a loose sense, we may say that a mother and her child carry on exchange of
goods and services. They certainly “negotiate,” but this does not constitute market ex-
change. The “prices” at which “goods” exchange in such cases are largely determined
by physiological mechanisms operating within the genetically structured family rela-
tionships of the people involved. The terms of trade are grounded in emotion and close
kinship. By market exchange in sharp contrast, we mean to include trade between only
distantly related members of the same species, with prices determined by the subjective
valuations of the traders for the commodities. Market exchange relies on the large-scale
division of labor within and across large populations.
How is it that scientists can infer the existence of trade among geographically wide-
spread human populations? They cannot rely on written history alone, as exchanges
believed to have any phylogenetic foundations clearly must extend many generations
farther back into the realm of prehistory. Anthropologists must use circumstantial evi-
dence, strung together with theoretical threads. Among the body of evidence, they have
mustered is that:
1) Extant humans have exceedingly large brains that are known from direct fossil
evidence to have increased steadily in volume over the last four million years until
reaching a plateau, and then appeared to decline moderately in volume over the last
few tens of thousands of years (reviewed in Eckhardt, 2000). Not all of the reasons
for the great increase (roughly a tripling over three or four million years) are known,
but they are likely to include ad hoc tool use followed later by tool making to cul-
turally transmitted patterns, group cooperation in hunting, and reckoning of kinship
and intergroup relations over increasingly large networks. The large brains of ex-
tant humans that appear pre-adapted to trade probably represent previous adaptive
responses to needs as diverse as remembering the location of water and the best
stone for tools, recalling past social interactions within and among groups, and cul-
tural responses to increasingly complex material cultures.
2) Discoveries of raw materials far from their geographic origin, and caches of fin-
ished tools amassed by early humans at least a hundred thousand years ago. We
present detailed evidence on this point later in the paper.
3) A long-continued sequence of phyletic evolution, with larger-brained populations
descended from smaller-brained antecedents without clear evidence of splitting into
contemporaneous species. Roughly the first two million years of this evolutionary
anagenesis took place in Africa alone, followed by subsequent expansion into Eura-
Volume 19, Issue 2, 2019
81
sia, and only much later into the Pacific islands, Australia, the Americas, etc. Ignor-
ing specialist in-group arguments about hypothetical lineage splitting and the exist-
ence of possibly co-existing species (irrelevant here), there is a sequence that is
well-documented by fossil evidence from the earliest known populations that have
entered the human niche by using bipedal locomotion (Galik, et al. 2004) with as
yet unknown brain volumes that probably were chimp-sized (>400 ml), through
australopithecines beginning with brain sizes similar to those of chimps, then rang-
ing larger through time to Homo erectus around 2 to 1 or so million years ago. Over
time and space, Homo erectus brains ranged from about 600 ml to roughly double
that, before the continued phyletic evolution into our own species (Lordpikanidze,
2013). Homo sapiens, as in our Neanderthal predecessors, currently exhibit brain
volumes ranging from 1000 to 2000 ml with an average around 1400 ml (reviewed
in Eckhardt, 2000).
4) Agriculture represents a significant shift in the ecological niche. Among other
things, it produced surpluses with larger temporal and spatial differentials than pos-
sible for most hunters and gatherers, with very rare exceptions such as US North-
west Coast Native Americans who had access to abundant sea mammals and vast
salmon runs, both producing food that could be stored easily by drying and smok-
ing.
The preceding points indicate that there are elements in the human evolutionary past
that could have laid the groundwork for marketsvenues for the exchange of one good
or service for another, e.g. dried fish or meat in payment for huge seagoing dugout log
canoes as in the Pacific Northwest prior to European contact. If the market exchange
were present, how might we recognize it? First, this phenomenon relies upon and pro-
motes the division of labor. This division might occur along gendered (women provid-
ing greater parental investment in offspring, male protection entailing greater risk of
injury or death), tribal (as from the ethnographic present, when inland tribes exchange
meat and forest fruits for fish and other products from the sea), or occupational lines
(after the origin of agriculture, elaborated craft products exchanged for grain and the
yield from animal husbandry). Given technological and economic specialization beyond
biologically-based family lines, a system of redistribution must be present. Among the
Northwest Coast Amerindians, this was accomplished in part by the seemingly strange
but economically effective custom of the potlatch, in which conventional displays of
economic wealth to gain prestige also served to distribute resources more widely in
society. In more conventional markets, this is done via trade. Such commercial interac-
tion is most easily facilitated through the medium of money. Thus, evidence of money
would constitute solid though very late support for more formal market exchanges
than those already documented by the archeological record.
Agriculture seems to have catalyzed the need for written records. The earliest known
writing found in the clay tablets and envelopes of Sumeria that recorded market transac-
tions five thousand years old (Schmandt-Besserat 1977, 1982, and 1992). This was not
epic poetry. It constituted business receipts. Such commercial correspondence predates
the Epic of Gilgameshthe earliest known written storyby several hundred years.
Markets must thus have existed even before writing.
Whence markets? Large accumulations of unfinished stones have been found in com-
mon stockpiles. Moreover, these stones did not all come from the same source. They
Review of Economic Perspectives
82
emanated from different places, indicating that they were brought to a central depot. By
the late Paleolithic era, unfinished stones were transported 100-200km from quarry to
destination (Ofek 2011).
By the beginning of the Mesolithic era, around 12,000 years ago people began to settle
down into permanent locations, shifting from collecting and hunting to husbandry and
agriculture to provide sustainable food supplies in many locations. Even long prior to
this time humans took part in long-distance trade between bands for rare commodities
(such as ochre, which may have had a ritual as well as artistic functions)
11
as well as
other raw materials, as early as 12,000 years ago in the Middle Paleolithic. Trade among
bands may have appeared during the Middle Paleolithic because it enhanced survival
value by making a possible exchange of resources and commodities during times of
drought and famine (Armesto, 2003).
More detailed evidence for long distance trade and transport of valued materials is in-
creasingly available (Bednarik, 1992). Shells for body ornaments, red ochre, resin,
spears, shields, axeheads, spear-throwers, boomerangs, millstones, dilly bags, fishing
nets, digging sticks, and ornamental feathers were traded widely in Australia, virtually
crossing the continent in some cases (Cooper, 1948). Unworked pieces of amber have
been found in Upper Paleolithic dwelling caves in Europe at the Grotte d’Aurensan in
the Hautes-Pyrénées, at Judenes in Austria, at Kostelik and Zitmy in Moravia, at Cio-
clovina in Romania, and at Gough’s Cave near Cheddar in Somerset, England. All of
these examples are far from natural sources of resin (Burdukiewics, 2009). Among other
examples, the Epipalaeolithic site of Baños in the Mortero Gorge area has perforated
Columbellae rusticae shells that come from coastal areas (Beltrán and Royo 2008: 75).
Adjacent to the Levantine area in Catalonia, beyond the north-east end of the Levantine
area, the hammers used in the Neolithic salt mine of Cardona came from Collserolla,
and variscite from Gavà is found in some of the Cardona burials. Moreover, in that
whole area of Catalonia, honey flint from Provence (France) and obsidian from Sardinia
was being used, and shell pendants, probably from the River Ebro delta were also de-
posited in burials (Terradas et al. 2014; Weller and Fíguls 2008). Such artifacts had use
value, and to some extent, their widespread distribution was an indirect measure of such
value.
Whence money? Carl Menger (1950) explained that money could not have been invent-
ed by fiat. This is not to say that a fiat currency cannot exist, only that it could not have
been the origin of money as an institution. The reason for this is that if original money
were fiat, it would have had no value to anyone; no one would have already been using
it for ordinary purposes. Menger explained that money, like language, evolves endoge-
nously.
Barter is inefficient. It requires the double coincidence of wants: A must have what B
wants, and B must have what A wants, each in the right quantities and at the same time,
at an agreed upon price. Otherwise, A might need to string together multiple chains of
barters before he can acquire the desired goods. However, the smarter ones among us
11
Boehm (1999) and Henahan (2002).
Volume 19, Issue 2, 2019
83
would realize that some more marketable goods are more highly demanded than others.
Let us call such a good, “moolah.” People will be more likely to accept moolah in barter
simply because they know others are slightly more likely to accept it, and can therefore
shorten the long chain of such exchange. As A now accepts moolah, he adds to the
growing list of people who do so, which further increases the value that moolah has to
others. Slowly, the list of people accepting moolah grows to consist of virtually the
entire population, by which point moolah is money, a generally accepted medium of
exchange.
Money has had many different forms. It has consisted of gold and silver, giant stone
wheels (in Yap), cigarettes (in prison: Radford, 1945), feathers, and wampum beads.
This last currency provides a crucial link to our story.
Beads are likely to have been our earliest money, as well as our first form of accounting
(and, by extension, of writing.) How many sheep does a man have? He may not be able
to count that high. In fact, there still exist Amazonian tribes
12
that do not have proper
numbers. They have one, two, and many. How to keep track? All that is needed is a
one-to-one correspondence between the item to be countedsay, sheepand the count-
ing mechanism. For us today, this counting mechanism is a natural number, like 103.
But for the innumerate, it is simply equal to the number of beads that someone has on
his necklace. How many is that? There may be no name of for that number in a given
language, but its speakers do not need one. They can see whether or not they are miss-
ing a sheep by seeing whether there still exists a one-to-one correspondence between
each animal and each bead. What if A were to trade B some sheep for some cows? How
many sheep does A have, now? During trade, the beads could be “counted”, removed,
and re-assembled on new necklaces. The simplicity of this practice renders beads likely
first money.
We have ample evidence of beadwork from thousands of years ago. The oldest shell
beads date 82,000 years ago, and were found in a cave in Morocco.
13
In the Blombos
Cave in South Africa, archeologists have uncovered beads made from shells of a pea-
sized snail that lived in a nearby estuary. These beads were fashioned 75,000 years ago.
Forty thousand year old ostrich-eggshell beads were found in the Kenyan Rift Valley. In
a burial site at Sungir, Russia, 28,000 years ago, archeologists have found interlocking
and interchangeable mammoth ivory beads. Each bead may have required one to two
hours of labor to manufacture (Szabo, 2002). Why do this?
The ubiquity of the beadwork implies that it had some function, a use, in addition to
decoration.
14
This use initially may have been simply ornamental, with at least tangen-
tial relationship to sexual attractiveness and hence a reproductive advantage. But as with
other examples of pre-adaptation, beads and other ornaments could have been adapted
12
For example, the Piraha tribe (Frank, et al. 2008) have words for “one,” “many,” and “more”
but no precise numbers.
13
CNRS (2007).
14
For a modern defense of this thesis, criticizing claims to the contrary by an anthropologist, see
Murphy (2011).
Review of Economic Perspectives
84
for other functions that may have contributed more directly to survival. That is, orna-
ments probably were evolutionarily functional in some respect. Collecting and making
necklaces must have had an important selective benefit, since it was costly, and yet
widely undertaken. Put another way, spending hours upon hours to fashion a supposedly
useless ornamental trinket seems inconsistent with subsistence living (but for a seem-
ingly contradictory perspective see Sahlins, 1968). What was their use? We have al-
ready hinted that at some point beads came to serve a useful accounting-monetary ex-
change function.
Whence implicit cooperation? A “tit for tat” style of retaliation strategy has been shown
to overcome the prisoner’s dilemma in repeated games, and encourages cooperation
(Axelrod, 1984). As with cartels, this strategy is more effective with smaller groups.
Also, public reputation can motivate cooperation. However, reputational beliefs can
suffer from two major kinds of problems: reckoning precisely who did what, and at
what cost. The need to remember faces and favors is a major cognitive hurdle, but one
that most humans find relatively easy to overcome. Our increasing brain mass made
such memory possible and subsequently facilitated trade by allowing reputational data
to be collected, remembered and disseminated. Of course, our brains are not infinitely
large nor are our memories perfect. Money helps fill this deficiency by providing a
record of debt. A string of ten beads can symbolize a debt of ten sheep, for example.
Thus, money facilitates credit.
Whenever two parties (people, tribes, etc.) meet regularly, information about the other is
gained, trust develops, and further trade is facilitated. But what of tribes who meet in-
frequently? Having less experience with each other, there is less information, less trust
available, and thus less trade. Money could have helped surmount this problem as well.
Before contract law, “gift giving” contained an implicit obligation to reciprocate. A
classic example is the Kula Ring system of ceremonial exchange among islanders in
Papua New Guinea (Malinowski, 1922).
Along with community dishonor and punishments ensuing if the implicit obligation was
not met, such exchanges of gifts were perhaps the most common motivators of reciproc-
ity in delayed exchange, and is still common in the variety of informal favors we do for
each other. (She invited me to her wedding, I should invite her to mine.) The gift of a
string of 10 beads could be an implicit promise, an IOU, to return one sheep per bead.
According to Mary Stiner, “Ornamentation is universal among all modern human forag-
ers” (New York Times, 2002), so it might be argued that ornamental objects can be
collected for the sheer pleasure of possessing them (not for any explicit proximate rea-
sons). Such ornamentation is nearly universal across human cultures. Ornamental beads,
for example, have been found dating back approximately 42,000 years ago and can be
found in sites from western Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa (Kuhn, Stiner, Reese, and
Güleç, 2001). One of the immediate proximate motivations is decoration. For an evolu-
tionary psychologist, such behavior has a good ultimate explanation, in terms of natural
selection. But it has no proximate rationale other than pleasure. Thus, it is a prime can-
didate to be a genetically evolved pleasure that motivates the behavior. In other words,
we developed a liking for decoration over millennia of use then turned that use to
other purposes, thus converting goods with use value for decoration to money for trade.
Volume 19, Issue 2, 2019
85
Thus arose the human tendency to collect rare items, and especially jewelry. Collecti-
bles such as beaded jewelry arguably constitute proto-money.
4.
Reconciling hard-wiring for socialism with early trade
In section II, we argued that modern man is biased against free enterprise because of the
lack of much hard wiring for it. We are biologically disposed of in the direction of so-
cialism, communism, liberalism, progressivism, and dirigisme. Why? Because sociobio-
logical considerations impel people toward explicit cooperation or benevolence, and
they see these collectivist philosophies as compatible with that perspective. People are
philosophically not at all or at the very least much less receptive to the attributes of the
free market which include self-seeking, greed, selfishness, profiteering, price gouging,
etc. This is due to the fact that in the early days of our species, and in fact for vast mil-
lennia preceding them, there was a premium placed not on free enterprise, but on coop-
eration and mutual aid: helping each other in the face of inclement weather, sickness,
hostile animals, etc.
However, our section III seems to undermine this claim of ours, in that it attests to the
documented facts that some very early human populations did indeed engage in trade,
and on, perhaps, an everyday scale. How to reconcile these seemingly inconsistent
elements of our paper?
Our reconciliation is as follows. Human trade is only a relatively recent phenomenon,
biologically speaking. Benevolence is much deeper, and probably far more long-
standing in our genetic code. It is an aspect of human beings that stretches far back, past
even the earliest human prehistory, all the way to our roots as mammals, who also ex-
hibit explicit cooperation, but not trade. Our reconciliation is that yes, earlier humans
traded, and we also may be, therefore, somewhat biologically disposed of in the direc-
tion of commercial interaction. But these events took place only tens or at most a hun-
dred or so thousand years ago. Far more deeply embedded in the human psyche is our
tendency toward explicit cooperation, or benevolence, or altruism, and therefore this
constitutes a far stronger impulse in our decision-making. Biologically speaking, explic-
it benevolence triumphs the implicit trade variety.
15
We as a species are predisposed not
to accept the findings of economists to the effect that the “invisible hand” of Smith
(1776) can function at all, let alone to the degree necessary to embrace laissez-faire
capitalism as the predominant social and economic order. Yes, some of us, sometimes,
support free enterprise, but this acceptance is shallowly rooted, and limited to a few.
Much more deeply embedded in us is a rejection of this economic philosophy and sup-
port for its very opposite.
We all know that Bambi’s mother takes care of him. We witness household pets such as
dogs and cats engaging in benevolent activity with each other, particularly from mother
to offspring. Altruism has been confirmed in a number of studies of less well known and
less popular creatures. Denault and McFarlane (1995) report as follows:
15
Trade, too, is benevolent; it, too, is mutually supportive in that there are necessary gains from it
at least in the ex-ante sense.
Review of Economic Perspectives
86
“Reciprocal altruism is an example of social behavior that has generated much interest
among evolutionary theorists, but relatively few well documented case studies. Among
mammals, reciprocal altruism has been reported for the dwarf mongoose, Helogale
parvula (Rood 1983), naked mole rats, Heterocephalus glaber (Jarvis 1978), impala,
Aepyceros melampus (Hart and Hart 1992) and a few other species, but the best known
and most intensively studied example is the regurgitation of blood-meals by successful-
ly foraging adult vampire bats to unsuccessful individuals.”
16
Other experiments with animals that demonstrate cooperative behavior include: Epley
and Rosenbaum (1975), Robinson and Huber (1974), Łopuch and Popik (2011), Packer
(1977), Seyfarth and Cheney (1984), Krebs and Davies (1978), McNab (1973), Park
(1991). Our common ancestry with many of these species traces very far back to the
early mammalian evolutionary radiation.
5.
Conclusion
The reason libertarianism, free enterprise, laissez-faire capitalism is such a hard sell is
because we are hard wired through biology for explicit cooperation, benevolence and
some versions of socialism, but not for implicit cooperation, i.e. free markets based on
private property rights. Although there is some evidence for late Paleolithic trade
around 100,000 or so years ago (5000 generations), and convincing evidence for record
keeping and money of sorts at least near the time of the origin of agriculture about
10,000 years ago (500 generations), these occurrences are evolutionarily shallow in
relative terms. In contrast, explicit cooperation goes all the way back to the time when
we first became mammals, hundreds of millions of years ago -- more than five millions
of generations.
17
There is little wonder that explicit cooperation feels more “natural.” It
does probably because it is very ancient. And implicit cooperation feels less natural
because it is mediated culturally rather than or much more than biologically.
In closing, we note that it is not entirely impossible that there are some evolved predis-
positions toward implicit cooperation. After all, the human species has not remained
static genetically since the origin of agriculture. Changes within our relatively recent
evolutionary past (the last ten thousand years or so) have given rise to multiple poly-
morphisms (the situation for genetic loci at which multiple variants are present within a
population at frequencies above recurrent mutation levels). Polymorphisms are known
for resistance to malaria Allison (1954), for the persistence of the enzyme lactase into
adulthood (Simoons 1970); families are known with genetic variants that affect speech
and language development (Vargha-Khadem, et al. 1995) as well as writing (Berninger
and Richards 2010). Whether implicit cooperation might show such incipient diversity
in genetic patterning is an interesting question, but beyond the scope of this paper.
18
16
See also Trivers (1971).
17
Even some reptiles, snakes, turtles, aid their young, so this phenomenon may go back even
further in time.
18
It is important to note that some writers take the very opposite viewpoint to the one articulated
in this paper. For example, Arnhart (1998, 2005, 2009, 2010) maintains that sociological hard-
Volume 19, Issue 2, 2019
87
Acknowledgements: The three authors thank Michael Ghiselin, Nando Pelusi, Larry
Arnhart, Frank Jordan, William Ruger and Leda Cosmides for help with this paper. All
errors of commission and omission are of course the sole responsibility of the authors.
Disclosure statement: No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
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Various empirical and conceptual evaluations allow the candidate to recommend PILAR as a consilience model that credibly integrates numerous theories while representing an extensive assortment of group dynamics. Chapter one Reviews current group dynamics literature; including concepts, models, perspectives, and methodologies. Reasons are proposed for why social and organisational psychology has (arguably) failed to converge upon a compelling baseline model that is consistent with anthropological hominin groups. To demonstrate a potential application of such a model, I examine a practitioner method of organisational devolution, Appreciative Inquiry (AI). The chapter then presents a novel, iterative, method for developing a baseline model of group dynamics that has been adopted by the candidate. Chapter two (published) Proposes PILAR as a baseline model of group dynamics encapsulating a significant proportion of social and group psychology (SGP) theory. PILAR postulates five ostensive constructs (Pillars) that each member is unconsciously influenced by, when moderating their level of effort, or engagement. These five Pillars then prompt various participant behaviours, including both visible actions such as expressing an opinion or aiding another member, and hidden actions such as thought processes, which may only be evident in body language (if at all). Chapters three, four and five (all published) These three chapters examine whether group members use the five Pillars to assess one another’s contribution to a team. A member observing a colleague’s low Pillars may deduce their poor engagement, while higher Pillars suggest significant effort. A member might also collectively evaluate colleagues’ Pillars to assess a group’s overall engagement, either to match this level, or strategically vary from it, for instance to demonstrate leadership (discussed further in §8.3.3). 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High inter-correlations between CATME’s dimensions may have been the result of redundancy as three Pillars were extended over five dimensions. Chapter five reports the design of a brief peer assessment instrument informed by the Pillars, called Pillar-PP, that assesses a respondent’s peer’s perceptions. The chapter concludes with a recommendation to validate Pillar-PP, while also attempting to identify inter-rater bias between respondents. Chapter six (published) To investigate the universality of PILAR, Chapter six attempts unification of two divergent literatures, one positivist and one constructivist. Regarding the positivist literature, it was postulated that should PILAR accurately represent the small group, its Pillars may be able to categorise industrial and organisational psychology (IOP) constructs, since organisations are constituted by (albeit, hierarchical) teams. Regarding the constructivist literature, AI is action research that facilitates the formation of egalitarian team to undertake ad hoc projects. Chapters seven (published) and eight (submitted) These two chapters develop an evolutionary story behind a postulated baseline model. Chapter seven contends that sub-group level selection (sGLS) selected for pre-verbal anthropological prosociality. Chapter eight extends sGLS by considering how hominins and modern humans moderate their engagement as hierarchy steepness varies. Chapter nine (submitted) Assesses to extent to which Pillars are represented within a systematically selected set of constructs used for group research. It is found that approximately 80% of constructs conceptually align with one Pillar, which suggests that PILAR constitutes a baseline model. Chapter ten (published) Applies PILAR to two growing societal problems, mental health and precarious employment. I develop a model that connects the five Pillars with wellbeing via constructs associated with positive psychology. Each Pillar is postulated as only being reliably achievable when a member possesses the respective dimension of psychological capital (PsyCap). Furthermore, that participation in the team delivers the member each of five basic psychological needs (BPN). When examined in the context of low-status, precarious, employment, a novel public policy for increasing population wellbeing is presented. Chapter eleven The conclusion summarises the sequence of postulates developed through the course of the thesis. Policy and theory implications were then explored, followed by chapter-specific limitations that are potentially significant in aggregation. The thesis ends with a contention that a unique methodology allows deeper insights than ordinarily possible in a dynamically complex problem space.
... See on thisAxelrod and Hamilton, 1981;Barkow, Cosmides and Tooby, 1992; Buss, 1994Buss, , 2017 Dawkins, 1976;Levendis, Block and ...
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