Nowhere the rational man

David Sloan Wilson has been posting a series on behavioral economics (“Economics and evolution as different paradigms”). This, broadly speaking, is based on the idea that humans are not rational actors, and the ways that we act irrationally actually matter to the subjects of traditional economics, like markets and

In Wilson’s description, focusing on some recent books, it’s a field that badly needs an infusion of evolution:

As a symptom of the problem, consider the number of times that the word "evolution" is used in the three aforementioned books. It's easy for me to check because I have them on my Kindle. The answer is zero, zero, and two respectively, with the two uses in Animal Spirits tangential. Somehow, these authors think they can identify the real Homo sapiens without consulting the genetic evolution of our species or cultural evolution as an ongoing process. With a handful of exceptions, this is representative of the field as a whole. How is this possible? The subtitle of Animal Spirits provides the answer: Behavioral economists consult psychology, not evolution, in their quest to find the real Homo sapiens, and their psychological inquiry does not lead them to consult evolution in any meaningful sense. This is because most psychologists don't consult evolution in any meaningful sense.

I have seen a number of preprints from people trying to integrate evolutionary perspectives into behavioral economics. A problem is that they are very simplistic on the evolutionary side, in some of the same ways that evolutionary psychology can be. Humans are not rational actors, but neither are they identical to each other. If the model does not entail explanations for variability, then it’s not going to explain many interesting phenomena.