Oog Wants Ugg to Keep Out of His Cave


For those who haven't encountered economist Paul Rubin's book Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom, I highly recommend (1) buying it now, and (2) tiding yourself over with this nifty mashup of econ and evopsych from The Washington Post:

Our primitive ancestors lived in a world that was essentially static; there was little societal or technological change from one generation to the next. This meant that our ancestors lived in a world that was zero sum—if a particular gain happened to one group of humans, it came at the expense of another.

This is the world our minds evolved to understand. To this day, we often see the gain of some people and assume it has come at the expense of others. Economists have argued for more than two centuries that voluntary trade, whether domestic or international, is positive sum: it benefits both parties, or else the exchange wouldn't occur. Economists have also long argued that the economics of immigration—immigrants coming here to exchange their labor for money that they then exchange for the products of other people's labor—is positive sum. Yet our evolutionary intuition is that, because foreign workers gain from trade and immigrant workers gain from joining the U.S. economy, native-born workers must lose.

Rubin touches on the fact that anti-immigrant sentiment is something that many people feel at a gut level. It's something more than prejudice–we've been wired that way. However, one of the important offshoots of evolutionary psychology is the insight that human beings wound up at the top of the food chain not because we have the best instincts hardwired in, but because our brains are the most flexible. As circumstances change, we adapt. We figure out new behaviors that serve us better than the ones our parents relied on. So don't despair over the immigration debate just because we're hardwired to be suspicious of The Other. To place two cliches head-to-head: Old humans can learn new tricks, even if old habits die hard.

Via Alex Tabarrok