May 2001

Evolutionary Theories in the Social Sciences ( has asked Brian Loasby to read Technological Innovation as an Evolutionary Process, edited by John Ziman, and offer his reflections on this exiting new volume.

It is widely known that Darwin was highly influenced by the economist Thomas Malthus in developing the ideas of natural selection. But it comes as a surprise to many scholars in evolutionary theory that Adam Smith’s writings also had a significant influence on Darwin’s thought. Loasby has published extensively (for a publication list click here) on the history of economic thought and recently won the Schumpeter Prize for his 1999 book Knowledge, Institutions and Evolution in Economics. In the present essay, Loasby engages such important economists as Adam Smith, Alfred Marshall, Allyn Young, Frank Knight, Joseph Schumpeter, and Friedrich Hayek in a dialogue with the authors of this volume. While not denying the usefulness of comparing technological innovation to biological processes, Loasby sees technological innovation as a special case of human activity that leads to the growth of knowledge. Loasby highlights that such knowledge creation processes have elements that are clearly different from biological processes. Variation and selection processes, for instance, are much more intimately related in human activity than in biology. These conclusions bring Loasby to a position that is quite congenial to the concerns of Donald Campbell, David Hull, or Richard Nelson and Sidney Winter-all of whom emphasized that biological evolution is just a special case of a general selection process. Because Loasby lives in Great Britain, I decided that it would be appropriate to keep his British English in the text.

Read Loasby’s Essay                          

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