From humans to hermit crabs to deep water plankton, all living things compete for locally limiting resources. This universal truth unites three bodies of thought--economics, evolution, and history--that have developed largely in mutual isolation. Here, Geerat Vermeij undertakes a groundbreaking and provocative exploration of the facts and theories of biology, economics, and geology to show how processes common to all economic systems--competition, cooperation, adaptation, and feedback--govern evolution as surely as they do the human economy, and how historical patterns in both human and nonhuman evolution follow from this principle.
Using a wealth of examples of evolutionary innovations, Vermeij argues that evolution and economics are one. Powerful consumers and producers exercise disproportionate controls on the characteristics, activities, and distribution of all life forms. Competition-driven demand by consumers, when coupled with supply-side conditions permitting economic growth, leads to adaptation and escalation among organisms. Although disruptions in production halt or reverse these processes temporarily, they amplify escalation in the long run to produce trends in all economic systems toward greater power, higher production rates, and a wider reach for economic systems and their strongest members.
Despite our unprecedented power to shape our surroundings, we humans are subject to all the economic principles and historical trends that emerged at life's origin more than 3 billion years ago. Engagingly written, brilliantly argued, and sweeping in scope, Nature: An Economic History shows that the human institutions most likely to preserve opportunity and adaptability are, after all, built like successful living things.
"Novel and intriguing. . . . [Nature: An Economic History] offers a distinctive point of view and an insightful synthesis that promises to provide the basis of much future work."--Douglas H. Erwin, Science
"Vermeij is one of the master naturalists of our time, and his command of the subtleties of animal interactions is exceptional. I think anyone can learn a great deal from this book."--Richard K. Bambach, American Scientist
"Vermeij, a well-known paleontologist and observer of nature writ large, has written a marvelously interdisciplinary work that makes an important contribtuion to the literature of complex adaptive systems. . . . [R]eaders who are interested in multidisciplinary issues will benefit from Vermeij's impressive breadth of knowledge. It is a pleasure to follow his articulate and synthesizing trek across the boundaries of conventional academic subjects."--Eric J. Chaisson, Quarterly Review of Biology
There are clear analogies between economics and biological evolution, but the thesis of this articulate essay is that both fields can and should be described in exactly the same terms in a single theoretical framework. . . . In successive chapters describing consumption of resources, competition, organization, environment and geography, evolutionary biologist Vermeij illustrates, with copious examples from paleontology, ecology, and economic history, the overarching common description of competition for locally scarce resources and differential success based on variation, leading to evolving adaptations and descent with modification."--Choice
Table of Contents:
CHAPTER ONE: Economy and Evolution: A Road Map 1
CHAPTER TWO: The Evolving Economy 13
CHAPTER THREE: Human and Nonhuman Economies Compared 38
CHAPTER FOUR: The Economics of Everyday: Consumption and the Role of Enemies in Nature 59
CHAPTER FIVE: The Economics of Everyday: Production and the Role of Resources 92
CHAPTER SIX: The Ingredients of Power and Opportunity: Technology and Organization 121
CHAPTER SEVEN: The Ingredients of Power and Opportunity: The Environment 145
CHAPTER EIGHT: The Geography of Power and Innovation 169
CHAPTER NINE: Breaking Down and Building Up: The Role of Disturbance 204
CHAPTER TEN: Patterns in History: Toward Greater Reach and Power 246
CHAPTER ELEVEN: The Future of Growth and Power 292
Appendix 1: Abbreviations 317
Appendix 2: The Geological Time Scale 319
Literature Cited 371
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Geerat J. Vermeij: