Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 101–114 | Cite as

Evolvability and progress in evolutionary economics

  • Tim Cochrane
  • James MaclaurinEmail author


This paper develops an account of evolutionary progress for use in the field of evolutionary economics. Previous work is surveyed and a new account set out, based on the idea of evolvability as it has been used recently in evolutionary developmental biology. The biological underpinnings of this idea are explained using examples of a series of phenomena that influence the evolvability of biological systems. It is further argued that biological and economic selection pressures and developmental processes are sufficiently similar to make this biological concept useful in economics. The new account is defended against a number of common objections to the notion of progress in evolving systems, including the claim that all stipulated measures of evolutionary progress are essentially arbitrary and the idea that economic evolutionary progress might not accord with the preferences of economic actors. It is argued that progress, understood as an increase in evolvability over time, is both philosophically well-justified and provides useful predictive and explanatory resources to those seeking to understand and manipulate evolving economic systems.


Progress Evolvability Modularity Entrenchment Change 

JEL Classification

B25 B52 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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