Any article that starts with the tagline “Sound economics may lie at the hart of humanity’s evolutionary success” is bound to get my attention, especially when it is in the Science and Technology section of the Economist. The article itself however, wasn’t the most exciting thing. The article covered a paper that is to be published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization by Jason Shogren, a University of Wyoming professor. I always love seeing my home state in the Economist, but to see it mentioned for an economics article is really great.
Dr. Shogren makes the assertion that Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens were actually quite similar in terms of intelligence and evolution, yet Homo neanderthalensis died out while Homo sapiens are now the dominant species on the planet. Once Homo sapiens encountered Homo neanderthalensis for the first time, they became competitors. People have said that Homo sapiens had better tools or that our mental capacity for symbolic thinking gave us an advantage. Dr. Shogren theorizes that in fact it was our economic system that gave us the advantage. Where a Homo neanderthalensis hunter would struggle to find food if he was a bad hunter, a Homo sapien would simply stop hunting, find something they were good at, and trade that good to better hunters for food. Our ability to trade and use a competitive advantage led to a more efficient system for retrieving scarce resources and Homo neanderthalensis simply couldn’t compete.
Dr. Shogren has created a model that factors in the most important variables for each species survival and given Homo sapiens an advantage in only the economic category. The model accurately predicts the time frame of the extinction of Homo neanderthalensis once they come into contact with Homo sapien.
When I read the article, I’ll blog about it again but I think a theory like this really makes sense. If you’re an Economist subscriber you can read the article here.
I just found another pretty good summary on the Catallaxis site. It’s got a link to the UW article as well as some text from the Economist article.Tweet