Symbiotics > Economics? (2021)

This paper begins with a discussion on James Buchanan’s suggestion to replace theword “economics” with “symbiotics”, viewing human behavior through the window of exchange rather than choice. Although our current textbooks – such as those by Daron Acemoglu, David Laibson, and John A. List (Microeconomics and Macroeconomics) – tend to over-emphasize choice rather than exchange, a look at documents published in Scopus during the past 70 years indicates that exchange is equally well represented throughout those years. More fundamentally, words such as choice or exchange are kind of “suitcase-like” words that conceal the complexity of very different things and concepts whose relationship we often do not sufficiently discuss or comprehend. As Richard Feynman, Marvin Minsky, and Aaron Sloman remind us, there is a difference between the name of a thing and what actually goes on. To make this point, the paper looks at the mechanism and machinery of decision-making to highlight that mechanisms can be programmed; in the process, reviving old AI ideas such as the General Problem Solver developed by Allen Newell, Clifford Shaw, and Herbert Simon, or Marvin Minsky’s “Prediction Machine”. The paper finishes by discussing not only the benefits of viewing an economic system through the lens of exchange, and therefore mutual aid, reciprocity, and redistribution, but also by emphasizing – as Kenneth Boulding has shown us – that social life is full of one-way transfers which are essential to a deeper understanding of our political economy and non-market machinery.

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Torgler Benno