2022/24 LEM Working Paper Series

The Agenda for Evolutionary Economics: Results, Dead Ends, and Challenges Ahead.

Giovanni Dosi
Economic evolution; complex systems; technological and organizational innovation; heterogeneity; market processes; bounded rationality; organizational capabilities; routines and heuristics; theory of production; industrial structures.

  JEL Classifications
O1, L1, E24, D01
This essay outlines the evolutionary research agenda thoroughly explored in its microeconomic aspects in the forthcoming Manual, The Foundations of Complex Evolving Economies. Part One: Innovation, Organization and Industrial Dynamics, Oxford University Press, 2023. But is there an ''evolutionary paradigm'', in the first place? And if yes, what is it? In brief, in such a paradigm, the economy is interpreted as a complex evolving system. In that, a wide set of techno-economic phenomena are understood as emergent properties - outcomes of far-from-equilibrium interactions among heterogeneous agents - characterized by endogenous preferences, most often ''boundedly rational'' - but always capable of learning, adapting, and innovating with respect to their understandings of the world in which they operate, the technologies they master, their organizational forms, and their behavioral repertoires. All that involves some crucial properties. First, if the entities are genuinely evolving, new elements, new technologies, new organizational forms, new patterns of interaction are bound to appear along the course of evolution. Second, evolution is a multi-scale phenomenon. This is a fundamental property of biological evolution, and even more so is the evolution of economies and whole societies, nested in different institutions - possibly evolving at different paces, and coupled with technological and organizational changes. Third, but relatedly, economies are complex interactive systems. Interaction generally implies emergence. There is no isomorphism between macroscopic phenomena, say, the dynamics of industries, markets, and whole economies, on the one hand, and the behaviours of individual entities, on the other. More is different (Anderson, 1972). Fourth, complexity is intimately linked with non-linearities, and thus multiple possible dynamical paths. History counts. And this, even more so, in socio-economic environments characterized by knowledge accumulation. Knowledge builds upon itself, thus involving what economists in their jargon call dynamic increasing returns. As summarized in this essays Part One of the Manual addresses in the foregoing perspective, (i) Innovation and technological evolution; (ii) The theory of the firm in evolving environments; (iii) The formalization of learning processes; (iv) the theory of production; (v) consumption patterns; (vi) economic interactions and the working of markets; and, (vii) The ensuing structures and evolution of industries. Further in this essay we sketch some fundamental topics of the macroeconomic and developmental research ahead, which we mean to explore in Part Two of the Manual, in progress. At the same time the reader is warned against multiple risks of ''normalization'' by which 'evolution' is reduced to sheer 'innovation', and the latter is handled by standard econometric instruments, which are inevitably bound to largely neglect, among other features, the emergence of novelty, coupled dynamics, profound heterogeneities at all levels, and various forms of complementarities.
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