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Does Social Cooperation Affect Macroeconomic Performance? Research Project

Managed Evolution: A New Narrative for Macroeconomics

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Principal Investigator: Professor David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson is President of the Evolution Institute and SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He applies evolutionary theory to all aspects of humanity in addition to the rest of life.


His books include  Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of SocietyEvolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives,  The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a TimeDoes Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others, and This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution

Project Summary

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, this project has been successful on both the theoretical and empirical fronts.


On the theoretical front, my collaboration with Dennis Snower is leading to a major article titled “Rethinking the Theoretical Foundation of Economics”, which first briefly reviews the current foundation based on utility maximization and then sketches an alternative paradigm based on multilevel selection theory. This requires a deep dive into topics such as methodological individualism, the difference between physics-based and evolution-base theories, the requirements of studying functionally organized entities, the concept of the invisible hand, and a revised definition of economics and its purpose. The task is complicated by the need to communicate effectively with orthodox economists in addition to the new breed. Nevertheless, we feel that the economics profession is sufficiently receptive to change at this moment in history that our efforts will fall upon receptive ears. Two interim documents that can be read now are my working paper for this grant and a short online essay by Dennis titled A Copernican Revolution in Economics.


On the empirical front, the grant has succeeded in two stages. In Stage 1, we pioneered a four-level structure for introducting Prosocial World to individuals (level 1) as members of small teams (level 2) representing organizations and communities (level 3) who expected to work with each other (level 4). The organizations and communities are listed in this online article published at the beginning of the grant. The ten-session online course was in progress at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the commitment of the participants was sufficiently great to continue despite the disruption in everyone’s lives. The course content was even modified to help participants adapt to the stress of the pandemic.


Stage two began to implement action plans that were developed as part of Stage one, with support from the remaining funds of the ESRC grant. This process was flexible by design and in accord with the seventh core design principle for the efficacy of groups (providing local autonomy for groups to manage their own affairs), which is part of PW training. Four initiatives received support: 1) Prosocial training for approximately 40 people in the Bristol area centered on the school system and extending into the community; 2) Prosocial training in the Dumfries/Galloway area centered on the NHS, which has created and funded a “Prosocial Development and Staff Support” service; 3) A branch of PW specialized on educational applications worldwide; and 4) Introducing PW to the Transition Network.


PW has high standards for assessing its methods and conducting basic scientific research in real-world settings. It is important to acknowledge that these activities did not take place during the period of the grant and will require a Stage Three.  Nevertheless, it is safe to say that PW methodology has taken root in a number of organizations and communities, where it can continue to spread based on support from a diversity of sources on the basis of the value that it creates.  



Managing Multilevel Cultural Evolution in Theory and Practice

David Sloan Wilson | March 10, 2021

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