The Evolutionary Psychology of Lou Dobbs

Fly Bottle regulars will probably enjoy this post riffing on Paul Rubin more than the average Economist reader. A taste:

Rather than emphasize our grasp of positive sum interaction, or lack thereof, I think it would be better to say that we do not understand economic growth—the periodic increase in the size of surplus from cooperation. This is, I take it, what Rubin is getting at when he talks about “technological change,” which is generally what drives the productivity increases behind growth. Because we do not find intuitive the idea that the output from a unit of labor, and thus the size of the pool of wealth, can continually increase, we are likely to see total wealth as more or less static, and the division of the fixed pool as a zero sum game. But this is a game that my team plays against your team. We cooperate internally to compete externally over the wealth “commons.”

But how helpful is this in understanding “free trade” and “immigration” policy? I say: sort of. Evolutionary psychology helps illuminate why we have a tendency to in-group/out-group thinking, and why we are unlikely to grasp the nature of an ever-growing surplus from cooperation. But, as far as I can tell, it does little to help us understand why we draw the in-group/out-group boundaries where we do. Trade and immigration, as political issues, embody nationalist assumptions — people and goods going over political boundaries. But the modern nation state is a new idea: there were no nation states in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness. …

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