On the problem of scale: a general theory of morphogenesis and normative policy signals for economic evolution

  • Benjamen F. GussenEmail author


The paper analyzes evolution to the end of furnishing a general theory of economic change. This analysis is applicable to both organisms and organizations. The general theory presented here is based on four analytical constructs: symmetry, scale, complexity, and collapse. Complexity is modeled as a force, similar to gravitation. Evolution is understood as a condition exhibiting an increase in morphological complexity. In the final analysis, economic change is linked to the structure of the political state. Pathologies of economic change, including morphostasis (in other words reaching a stage where growth and development are anemic due to the system’s form and structure becoming static), necessitate a rethinking of political organization. Polycentricity and the principle of subsidiarity [see generally Aligica and Tarko (Governance 25:237, 2012); Føllesdal (J Polit Philos 6(2):190, 1998)], with a praxis inspired by sovereign cities [see for example Gussen (J Philoso Econ 7(1), 2013a)], are imperative for the continuous evolution of societies, and hence economies. In this future, nation states become subsidiary. Sovereign cities replace nation states on the ‘international’ stage.


City Complexity Emergence Evolution Morphology Nation state Scale Subsidiarity Technology 

JEL Classification

A12 B52 C00 H11 H77 K10 R10 Z18 


  1. AER (2014) State of the Energy Market 2014. Australian Energy Regulator. Competition and Consumer Commission, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  2. Aligica PD, Tarko V (2012) Polycentricity: from Polanyi to Ostrom, and beyond. Governance 25:237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allen PM (1994) Coherence, chaos and evolution in the social context. Futures 26(6):583CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Allen PM (2001) Knowledge, ignorance, and evolution in complex systems. In: Foster J, Metcalfe JS (eds) Frontiers of evolutionary economics. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, p 313Google Scholar
  5. Allen PM (2005) Understanding social and economic systems as evolutionary complex systems. In: Dopfer K (ed) The evolutionary foundations of economics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p 431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Amabile TM et al (2010) Breakthrough ideas for 2010. Harvard Bus Rev 88(1/2):41Google Scholar
  7. Archer MS (2013) Social morphogenesis and the prospect of morphogenetic society. In: Archer MS (ed) Social morphogenesis. Springer, New York, p 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Arthur WB (1989) Competing technologies, increasing returns, and lock-in by historical events. Econ J 99:116CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Arthur WB (1994) Increasing returns and path dependence in the economy. Michigan University Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  10. Axelrod R (1984) The evolution of cooperation. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. Boden M (1990) The creative mind: myths and mechanisms. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  12. Bonner JT (1988) The evolution of complexity by means of natural selection. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  13. Bookchin M (1982) The ecology of freedom: the emergence and dissolution of hierarchy. California Cheshire Books, Palo AltoGoogle Scholar
  14. Bookchin M (1987) The rise of urbanization and the decline of citizenship. Sierra Club Books, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  15. Boulding K (1968) Beyond economics. University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  16. Boulding K (1971) Collected papers (volumes I and II). Colorado Associated University Press, BoulderGoogle Scholar
  17. Boulding K (1981) Evolutionary economics. Sage Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
  18. Boulding K (1984 [1953]) The organizational revolution: a study in the ethics of economic organization. Greenwood Press, WestportGoogle Scholar
  19. Brading K, Castellani E (eds) (2003) Symmetries in physics: philosophical reflections. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  20. Brady F (ed) (1996) Dictionary on electricity—contribution on Australia. CIGRE (unpublished). Available at
  21. Brissaud J-B (2005) The meaning of entropy. Entropy 7(1):68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Callejas DG (2007) Biology and economics: metaphors that economists usually take from biology. Ecos de Economía 24:153Google Scholar
  23. Camilo M, Tittensor DP, Adl S, Simpson AGB, Worm B (2011) How many species are there on earth and in the ocean? PLoS Biol. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127 Google Scholar
  24. Carroll SB (2001) Chance and necessity: the evolution of morphological complexity and diversity. Nature 409:1102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Claeys G (2000) The ‘survival of the fittest’ and the origins of social darwinism. J Hist Ideas 61(2):223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Coase R (1998) The new institutional economics. Am Econ Rev 88(2):72Google Scholar
  27. Commons JR (1924) Legal foundations of capitalism. Macmillan, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  28. Dawkins R (1976) The selfish gene. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  29. de Wit B, Smith J (1986) Field theory in particle physics. Elsevier, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  30. Dopfer K, Potts J (2014) Introduction: evolutionary microeconomics. In: Dopfer K, Potts J (eds) The new evolutionary economics, vol 1 ix. Edward Elgar, CheltenhamGoogle Scholar
  31. Dunn C (1985) The history of electricity in Queensland: n outline of the history of electricity and its progress in Queensland 1882–1984. Col Dunn publisher, BundabergGoogle Scholar
  32. Elsner W (2010) The process and a simple logic of ‘meso’. Emergence and the co-evolution of institutions and group size. J Evol Econ 20:445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. ESAA (1996) Electricity Australia 1996. Electricity Supply Association of Australia, SydneyGoogle Scholar
  34. Føllesdal A (1998) Survey article: subsidiarity. J Polit Philos 6(2):190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Funtowicz S, Ravetz JR (1994) Emergent complex systems. Futures 26(6):568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gavrilov L, Gavrilova N (2004) Why we fall apart. IEEE Spectr 41(9):30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Geisendorf S (2009) The economic concept of evolution: self-organization or universal darwinism. J Econ Methodol 16(4):377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gibson AJ (1927) Power development in Australia. A report to the Commonwealth GovernmentGoogle Scholar
  39. Goodwin B (1994) How the leopard changed its spots: the evolution of complexity. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  40. Gordon S (1989) Darwin and political economy: the connection reconsidered. J Hist Biol 22(3):437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gould SJ (1996) Full house. Harmony Books, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Gould S (2007 [2000]) The theory of options: a new theory of the evolution of human behavior. Universal Publishers, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
  43. Gould SJ (2009) Preface. In: Milner R (ed) Darwin’s Universe. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  44. Granovetter MS (1973) The strength of weak ties. Am J Sociol 78(6):1360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Granovetter MS (1983) The strength of weak ties: a network theory revisited. Sociol Theory 1:201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Granovetter MS (1985) Economic action and social structure: the problem of embeddedness. Am J Sociol 91(3):481CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Gussen BF (2013a) On the problem of scale: spinozistic sovereignty as the logical foundation of constitutional economics. J Philoso Econ 7(1) (ISSN 1843-2298)Google Scholar
  48. Gussen BF (2013b) On the problem of scale: Hayek, Kohr, Jacobes and the Reivention of the political state. Const Polit Econ 24(1):19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Hanusch H, Pyka A (2007) Principles of neo-Schumpeterian economics. Camb J Econ 31:275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Hayden FG (1988) Evolution of time constructs and their impact on socioeconomic planning. In: Tool MR (ed) Evolutionary economics, vol 1. ME Sharpe, London, p 329Google Scholar
  51. Hayek F (1990) New studies in philosophies, politics, economics and the history of ideas. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  52. Hayward J, Graham P (2012) Australian electricity generation technology cost projections: application of a global and local learning model. CSIRO, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  53. Helling CS (1994) Simplifying the complex: the paradigms of ecological function and structure. Futures 26(6):598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Heylighen F (2009) Complexity and self-organization. In: Encyclopedia of library and information sciences, 3rd edn. Taylor & Francis, Oxford, p 1215Google Scholar
  55. Hobbes T (2011) Leviathan. Pacific Publishing Studio, SeattleGoogle Scholar
  56. Hodgson GM (1999) Evolution and institutions. Edward Elgar, CheltenhamGoogle Scholar
  57. Holt R, Rosser JB Jr, Colander D (2011) The complexity era in economics. Rev Econ Policy 23(3):357. doi: 10.1080/09538259.2011.583820 Google Scholar
  58. Inayatullah S (1994) Life, the universe and emergence. Futures 26(6):683CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Kirman AP, Vriend NJ (2001) Evolving market structure: an ACE model of price dispersion and loyalty. J Econ Dyn Control 25(3–4):459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Knudsen T (2002) Economic selection theory. J Evol Econ 12:443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Kropotkin P (1901) Fields, factories and workshops or industry combined with agriculture and brain work with manual work. GP Putman’s Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  62. Kropotkin P (1904) Mutual aid: a factor of evolution. William Heinemann, LondonGoogle Scholar
  63. Kropotkin P (1975) The essential kropotkin. Liveright, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  64. Lawson T (1997) Economics and reality. Routledge, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Lewin R (1992) Life at the edge of chaos. Collier Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  66. Luhmann N (1979) Trust and power. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  67. Marion R (1999) The edge of organization: chaos and complexity theories of formal social systems. Sage Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
  68. Martin R (1999) The new ‘geographical turn’ in economics: some critical reflections. Camb J Econ 23(1):65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Martin R, Sunley P (2001) Rethinking the ‘economic’ in economic geography: broadening our vision or losing our focus. Antipode 33(2):148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Matthews RCO (1984) Darwinism and economic change. In: Collard DA, Dimsdale NH, Gilbert CL, Helm DR, Scott MFG, Sen AK (eds) Economic theory and hicksian themes. Clarendon Press, Oxford, p 91Google Scholar
  71. McShea DW (1994) Mechanisms of large-scale evolutionary trends. Evolution 48:1747CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Metcalfe JS (2008) Accounting for economic evolution: fitness and the population method. J Bioecon 10:23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Mumford L (1934) Technics and civilization. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  74. Mumford L (1938) The culture of cities. Harcourt, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  75. Mumford L (1944) The condition of man. Harcourt, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  76. Mumford L (1961) The city in history: its origins, its transformations, and its prospects. Harcourt, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  77. Mumford L (1967) The myth of the machine, vol 1. Harcourt, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  78. Mumford L (1970) The myth of the machine, vol 2. Harcourt, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  79. Mumford L (1972 [1956]) The transformations of man. Harper, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  80. North D (1990) Institutions, institutional change and economic performance. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Ostrom V (1980) Artisanship and artefact. Public Adm Rev 40(4):309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Philo C, Parr H (2000) Institutional geographies: introductory remarks. Geoforum 31(4):513CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Porpora DV (2013) Morphogenesis and social change. In: Archer MS (ed) Social morphogenesis. Springer, New York, p 25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Potts J (2007) Evolutionary institutional economics. J Econ Issues 12(2):341Google Scholar
  85. Prigogine I, Nicolis G, Babloyantz A (1972a) Thermodynamics of evolution. Phys Today 25(11):23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Prigogine I, Nicolis G, Babloyantz A (1972b) Thermodynamics of evolution. Phys Today 25(12):38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Rosen J (2008) Symmetry rules: how science and nature are founded on symmetry. Springer, BerlinCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Ross SA (1976) Options and efficiency. Q J Econ 90(1):75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Saviotti P, Pyka A (2008) Product variety, competition and economic growth. J Evol Econ 18:167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Schrodinger E (1967) What is life. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  91. Schumacher EF (1977) A guide for the perplexed. Cape, LondonGoogle Scholar
  92. Schumacher EF (1999) Small is beautiful: economics as if people mattered. Hartley & Marks, VancouverGoogle Scholar
  93. Waldrop MM (1992) Complexity: the emerging science at the edge of order and chaos. Simon & Schuster, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  94. Whitfield P (1998) Evolution: the greatest story ever told. Marshall Publishing, LondonGoogle Scholar
  95. Wilkins JS (2001) The appearance of lamarckism in the evolution of culture. In: Laurent J, Nightingale J (eds) Darwinism and evolutionary economics. Edward Elgar, CheltenhamGoogle Scholar
  96. Witt U (1993) Emergence and dissemination of innovations: some principles of evolutionary economics. In: Day R, Chen P (eds) Nonlinear dynamics and evolutionary economics. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p 91Google Scholar
  97. Wood A, Valler D (2001) Turn again? Rethinking institutions and the governance of local and regional economies. Environ Plan A 33(7):1139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Yanguang C (2003) Self-organization and self-organizing cities. City Plan Rev 10:4Google Scholar
  99. Zwicky F (1969) Discovery, invention, research. Macmillan, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Japan Association for Evolutionary Economics 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Southern QueenslandToowoombaAustralia

Personalised recommendations