The evolutionary approach to economics focuses on the systematic transformations that economic institutions, production, and consumption activities undergo over time. It explains the driving forces behind the historical transformations and explores the consequences they are likely to have for our economy. In a broader perspective, the approach connects the kind of evolution underlying man-made transformations to evolution in nature. Given the strongly interdisciplinary character of its topics, the research group works with a variety of theoretical concepts and empirical methods. The group’s research results have been published in a wide range of international journals and books. The group runs a long established working paper series, continuously organizes conferences and workshops and takes part in several scientific cooperations with international partners. The group’s senior members teach classes at the University of Jena and participate in the joint doctoral program.
Changes taking place at the various layers of the economy are a ubiquitous phenomenon now, and they seem to have accelerated over the past decades. Rather than being exclusively driven by (unexplained) exogenous shocks disrupting economic equilibria, a large part of the transformations are caused from within the economy by human determination, laboriousness, and inventiveness. Indeed, it is for this endogeneity of change that makes for the evolutionary character of the economy. As a consequence, institutions, production technology, and governance regimes are continually transformed and, by enabling an increased, and ever more efficient, utilization of natural resources, they help expanding the human economic niche. The consequences in terms of the rising population, increasing per capita income, improved health and life expectancy, and reduced drudgery and deprivation are obvious, particular in comparison with the historical record of the past centuries.
The Evolutionary Economics Group focuses on these evolutionary features of the economy. Because they appear in different forms at different layers of the economy, a portfolio of more specific problems from diverse sub-fields of economics have been chosen and are explored in an exemplary fashion:
- the long-term transformation of the production technology with its effects on the changing division of labor, on employment, on income distribution (nationally and globally) and on the environment; the long term changes in the quality of human labor and its ever-rising knowledge requirements; the role of knowledge, energy, and materials in a ‘naturalistic’ perspective on the economic accumulation process.
- the growth and qualitative change of consumption expenditures and the role that product innovations play for this; the behavioral explanation of subjective values and preferences in more ‘naturalistic’ terms of innate needs and culturally contingent, learnt wants and desires; the social-cognitive processes of acquiring, and specializing in, consumption knowledge and technology.
- imitation, substitution, and clustering in industries; life cycle patterns in firms and industries and their regional distribution; the role of entrepreneurship and social models in the development and growth of firms, industries, and regional economic agglomerations.
- the emergence and change of economically relevant institutions in interaction with the newly developing technologies and their commercial potential; the dynamic interplay between informal and formal institutions; the implications of evolutionary change of institutions for economic growth and development.
- and, last but not least, the implications of a theory of value derived from innate needs and learnt wants for normatively assessing economic welfare, inequality, and the terms of the social contract in face of an ever more expanding anthropogenic utilization of nature.
The principles and modeling tools of such an approach to economics often relate to notions like self-organization and selection and may thus help to enhance a dialogue between economics and the sciences.