There is a connection between Darwin and economics, but it isn’t in the way Frank thinks it is.9 In October of 1825, Darwin matriculated at Edinburgh University where, as a matter of general course curricula, he studied the works of the great Enlightenment thinkers, including David Hume, Edward Gibbon, and Adam Smith. A decade later, upon his return home from the five-year voyage around the world on HMS Beagle, Darwin revisited these works, reconsidering their implications in light of the new theory he was developing.10 Although Darwin does not reference Smith directly, Darwin scholars are largely in agreement that he modeled his theory of natural selection after Smith’s theory of the invisible hand.11 Compare, by example, these two descriptions from Smith and Darwin:
Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command. … He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. He intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.
—Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776, Book IV, Chapter II
It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensiblyworking, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.
Fragmento del artículo de Michael Shermer reseñando críticamente el ensayo de Robert Frank 'Why Libertarians Should Support Many Forms of Government Intervention'—Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 1859, p. 84If there is a connection between evolution and economics—between Charles Darwin and Adam Smith—it is this: Life is intricate, complex, and looks designed, so our folk biology intuition leads us to infer that there must be an intelligent designer, a God. Analogously, economies are intricate, complex, and look designed, so our folk economic intuition is to infer that we need an intelligent designer, a Government. But as Smith and Darwin demonstrated, life and economies are not intelligently designed from the top down; they spontaneously arise out of simpler systems from the bottom up. Natural selection and the invisible hand explain precisely how individual organisms and people, pursuing their own self-interest in their struggle to survive and make a living, generate the emergent property of complex ecologies and economies. Charles Darwin and Adam Smith each in their unique way trying to solve a specific problem, independently stumbled across an elegant solution to what turns out to be a larger and overarching phenomenon of the emergence of complexity out of simplicity. Apparent design from the bottom up does not imply the necessity of intentional design from the top down.
These descriptors—invisible hand and natural selection—are so powerful, and so deeply annealed into our thought and culture, that it is difficult not to think of them as forces of nature, such as gravity and electromagnetism, or as mechanical systems, such as gears and pulleys. But they are not forces or mechanisms, because there is nothing acting on the agents in the system in such a causal manner. Instead, Smith’s invisible hand and Darwin’s natural selection are descriptions of processes that naturally occur in the economies of nature and society. The causal mechanisms behind the invisible hand and natural selection lie elsewhere in the system—within the agents themselves—which is why Smith invested so much work on understanding the natural sympathies of people, and Darwin advanced so much effort toward comprehending the natural tendencies of organisms.