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

Economic theory and evolutionary theory have been entwined throughout their histories, but modern macroeconomic theory has yet to incorporate developments in evolutionary theory during the last few decades. In particular, Multilevel Selection (MLS) Theory explains how adaptations can evolve—or fail to evolve—at any level of a multitier hierarchy, from genes to ecosystems. MLS theory is as relevant to human cultural evolution as to genetic evolution, explaining how governance can evolve—or fail to evolve–at any level of a multitier social hierarchy, from small groups to the global village.

In 2007, Edward O. Wilson and I used MLS theory to rethink the theoretical foundation of Sociobiology [1].  In this ESRC grant, I will team up with the world-renowned economist, Dennis Snower, to write a similar rethinking of macroeconomic theory.  In a second article, we will apply multilevel selection theory to collective goods and macroeconomic policy.

The empirical component of this grant will apply multilevel selection theory to real-world settings in one or more locations within the UK. The research will take place at three levels.

  1. Macro: which defines the macroeconomic policy goals and the ultimate long-term scale of implementation.

  2. Micro: defined not as individuals but as functionally oriented groups, which constitute the “cells” of a “multicellular” society.

  3. Meso: a multi-group unit such as a city, county, or watershed, which is practical to work with.


Using a practical framework for working with groups that has already been developed called Prosocial (, we will work with groups to increase their internal pro-sociality, and to function as cooperative agents at the Meso scale to achieve Macroeconomic goals.

This approach is a generalization of the work of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, both at the Micro level (her eight core design principles) and higher levels (polycentric governance)[2]. This approach also borrows from the applied behavioural sciences, where successful change methods can be seen as ways of managing cultural evolutionary processes so they become aligned with normative goals [3,4].

[1] Wilson, D. S., & Wilson, E. O. (2007). Rethinking the theoretical foundation of sociobiology. Quarterly Review of Biology, 82, 327–348.

[2] Wilson, D. S., Ostrom, E., & Cox, M. E. (2013). Generalizing the core design principles for the efficacy of groups. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 90, S21–S32.

[3] Wilson, D. S., Hayes, S. C., Biglan, A., & Embry, D. (2014). Evolving the Future: Toward a Science of Intentional Change. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37, 395–460.

[4] Wilson, D. S. (2019). This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution. New York: Pantheon/Random House.


Results will be published here when available.

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