We've discussed the concept of survival of the fittest and Darwinism and how it can be seen in a number of aspects of life all around us, but how can we relate it to economics? Can we even relate it?
When we first look at the idea of survival of the fittest we take in the basic idea that the weak and seemingly unfit die out, while the strong and fit continue to survive, mostly in terms with animals in nature. But as stated by Hodges the concept has an outer-framework and a basic set ideals that can be related to various happenings. "Darwinism involves a general theory of the evolution of all open, complex systems. Furthermore, Darwinism involves a basic philosophical commitment to detailed, cumulative, causal explanations." (Hodges, 1). Hodges then concludes that by having an understanding of this general theory you can easily see it applied to the practice of economics. "In both these senses, Darwinism applies fully to socio-economic systems." (Hodges, 1).
As well as Hogdes's argument we can also refer to Williams's ideas of nature, in particular his idea of "nature as the inherent and essential quality of any particular thing."(Williams, 68), the essential quality being man's instinctual drive to survive, to be successful. Through out history, man, through evolution, has undergone adaptations in order to better survive. This does not translate just literally, but in all aspects of life, including economically.
When discussing economic systems there are three basic ones that normally come to mind:
A free-market economy, defined as "an economic system in which prices are determined by unrestricted competition between privately owned businesses" (Oxford), is precisely that, unrestricted. Business firms and professionals are left unconstrained by outside influence, in an idea explained as laissez-faire, "a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action" (Merriam-Webster).
One of the best examples of free-market and free enterprise, was early american capitalism. Though not completely free of government influence, early american businesses were virtually free of regulations. Businesses had no bounds, free to grow, expand, and "conquer" industries. Monopolies, businesses that excessively controls the trade for an entire industry, formed, big businesses grew, lead by the "fit" businessman. Just as Burke states while summarizing the ideas of Sumner, "the best equipped to win the struggle was the great american businessman. As long as his 'survival' was not endangered by...taxes, regulations, factory acts...Absolute freedom of action was what made America great." (Burke)
While the "fit" flourished and reaped the benefits that came with the position, others were not so fortunate. The survival of the fittest mentality left the "unfit", lower classes to fend for themselves. Simply because it was not viewed that lower classes were the subject of misfortune, but they had not been able to achieve success because they were just incapable of doing so. In the free-market economy every man got what he was worthy of receiving, any charity to those who are unable of getting it themselves was to go against the essence of what is natural, and in fact may actually be dangerous for society. Burke again summarizes these ideas of Sumner "The struggle for survival was part of the great american tradition that brought all comforts to those who worked for them, the struggle weeded out the weak, the unfit, and the stupid. Unless you gave them unfair help with dangerous nonsense like government aid, welfare, education. In which case they'd breed more like them and drag the country down." (Burke).
Though the idea may seem cruel at first, free-market supporters saw through the rough outer surface that Darwinism wore, to the potential world that could be created without having to be drug down by the meek, lower class, a world ever developing, advancing, and the progress that could be achieved if society did not have to stop and carry those who nature itself, through the idea of survival of the fittest, deemed "unfit". Through the ideas he created "Darwin had proved that the basic animal struggle for food applied to everything human society did too. Only for food read power, possessions, and money." (Burke)
Contrasting to the idea of the "no holds barred", every man for himself economy created through free-market enterprise, there exists command economy, "an economic system in which activity is controlled by a central authority and the means of production are publicly owned" (Merriam-Webster). In this economic system the "central authority", in almost all cases the government, is in charge of the industries within it's respective country. There is no privatization of businesses among citizens. This means that the government regulates all aspects of business, from what types of products are produced, the number of the products produced, how much those products will sell for, and how much the workers who made the products get paid.
In the earlier 20th century, the idea of communism was born. Communism, while its self a political system, brought with it the economic idea of socialism, "a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state" (Merriam-Webster). Socialism, by it's very definition a command economy, and communism began to spread and be practiced by various countries throughout the 20th century. In communist countries, being economically socialist, there was no privatization of businesses, everything was owned by the state, and therefor by the people, the masses. Socialist found this as only coinciding with what nature had intended, interpreting that "Darwin's denial of any supernatural design in nature would put control over their destiny into the hands of ordinary working people" (Burke).
In short the aim of communism was to create an level of equality among the people. Everyone was to work as before, but the wealth and fruits of the labor was to be spread evenly among everybody, not in correlation with how much the individual actually produced. Communists interpreted what Darwin had said about survival of the fittest, but applied it to the survival of the masses, not just the individual. "Darwin's concept of the evolution of a species towards it's perfect form, strengthened the dream of a new society" (Burke). That perfect form? A socialist society. A society in which everyone would work not for themselves, but for the betterment of mankind. A society that had evolved to it's most fit form, fit enough to even accommodate the individually "unfit."
We've just discussed two polar opposite ideas, both of which roots stem deep within Darwin's idea of survival of the fittest, each displaying the general framework of the idea. However when you look at the world today, you would be hard pressed to find living examples of either.
True free-market economy has ceased to exist in the world we know today, not since the days of the infamous "captains of industry" or "robber barons", depending on your point of view. True free-markets have been regulated and taxed out of existence, with anti-trust laws, worker's rights, and environmental protection regulations. Kristol states "Men may be animals, but they are political animals--and, what comes to not such a different thing, moral animals too." (Kristol, 3), meaning though we as humans have an underlying notion to survive and succeed, we will not allow it to be at the expense of others.
Command economies have also seemed to disappear from the world today. Not since the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) has there been a true, somewhat stable command economy. For various, arguable reasons the system could not hold up. Corrupt governments, human greed, and lack of motivation to work harder with no compensation all lead to the down fall of the "perfect society".
But what does exist today? The answer: various economic systems under the umbrella term of mixed economies. These economic systems themselves seemed to have evolved from the latter two. Mixed economies have both public and private businesses and industries working simultaneously in the business world. It allows free-enterprise to exist and for businesses to expand and grow, but regulations are set in place so that it may not fully dominate the industry, as well as treat it's lower class workers properly. Certain subsidies are in place to help those who are unable to fully provide for their families or themselves. Governments tend to own a few key industries in order to ensure the remain stable and available to all, things like education, postal services, building roadways and bridges, sometimes even healthcare.
In short most mixed economies have a balance of free-market and command economic qualities that breeds economic competition but provides a certain amount of protection for the well-being of those who may not be able to contend. As pointed out by many neo-Darwinist this is not just a practice displayed by humans but in nature as well, "the behavior of monkeys and apes reveals a blend of competition and cooperation and, generally, a close connection to human moral behavior" (Klien).
pictures cited: http://therealdeal.com/issues_articles/survival-of-the-fittest/