Project (2012-2013)

Cultural Evolution and the Free Market: Hayek’s Theory of Group Selection

Nobel laureate Friedrich August von Hayek was undoubtedly one of the most consequential thinkers in the twentieth century. He influenced leading economists such as Milton Friedman, as well as policy makers such as Margaret Thatcher, and his defence of the free-market continues to draw appeal. However, the evolutionary theory Hayek developed in support of his political position remains relatively little explored. It is this lacuna that Naomi Beck's project looked to fill. Beginning with an account of Hayek’s background, it proceeded to examine his methodological views, in particular the parallels he sought to establish between economics and evolutionary biology and some of the incoherencies they present. The core of the book project was dedicated to the examination of Hayek’s theory of cultural group selection, which Naomi Beck compared to past developments (e.g., Darwin) and to recent studies on social evolution (e.g., Boyd & Richerson). This study offered a fresh perspective on Hayek’s thought and an evaluation of key theoretical elements that are often overlooked. It contributed to the ongoing discussion of the relationship between evolution, economics, and politics, as well as to the newly revived debate on cultural group selection.