an economics of life


1 Si considera un caso studio, per partire dalla vita stessa: una analisi bio-economica, di politica economica e femminista che, partendo dal Giappone, e facendo perno su questo, conducendo delle analisi comparate di bio-sistemi economici e demogafici nazionali, studia le dinamiche di disequilibrio: fertilità – condizione femminile – sistemi di governance sociale e dei mercati del lavoro.

2 Si passa poi al livello più astratto: come l’economia bio-evolutiva teorica pensa l’evoluzione. Come coniuga, ridefinisce le nozioni neoDarwiniane, ai fini di cogliere IL problema dell’economia par excellence, dal fuoco prometeico ad oggi: come produciamo ricchezza dalla conoscenza? Con una fitness di 2° o 3° grado, mediata da civiltà, culture ed ambienti artificiali: economici. L’abstract dell’ultimo paper di Stan Metcalfe (la mente più fine su questi temi), ad il link all’intero articolo – per chi volesse capire lo stato dell’arte in materia: la bio-economia che digerisce e metabolizza la biologia. COME UN CAMMELLO.

3 Si riporta infine una sintesi della voce bio-economia del nostro Dizionario di scienze sociali: per un ampio inquadramento e, soprattutto, la genealogia di una famiglia di paradigmi bio-, ancora non convergenti ma dialoganti. Anche nella rivista Journal of Bioeconomics, oltre che nelle principali riviste di economia non mainstream e geografia (un recente numero monografico del Jo. of Economic Geography sulla scuola bio-evolutiva). Le altre voci affini del DIZIONARIO (cui si rimanda), consentono di cogliere i movimenti tellurici sotterranei che, a cavallo del 2000, stanno rivoltando UPSIDE DOWN  le scienze umane e sociali.  



Frances McCall Rosenbluth, ed.

The Political Economy of Japan’s Low Fertility.

Stanford University Press, 2006, 240 pp.  $US 45.00 hardcover (0804754861)

CSJ oL REVIEW       by Danièle Bélanger, Director of the Population Studies Center of UWO, West Ontario. Her 2008 forthcoming book (Stanford University Press): Reconfiguring Families and Gender in Contemporary Vietnam.

     This edited collection offers much more that its title announces. Extremely rich, both conceptually and empirically, it provides readers with a detailed, sophisticated account of factors that explain Japan’s record low fertility, with some chapters contributing rigorous and pertinent international comparisons. Taking a feminist stance, the editor and authors of this book suggest that having children in Japan means that women often lose their economic independence, along with the satisfaction and benefits of a career; hence, many women have no choice but to forego motherhood altogether. As its title indicates, the book examines this issue from a political economy perspective, (rather than an individual or micro perspective), and it includes a thorough account of social policies and the politics of low fertility in Japan. The book’s original contribution to the debate on Japan’s low fertility is its focus on the country’s inhospitable labour market, which forces women to choose between motherhood and career. The book convincingly shows that, while better maternity leaves and available, affordable childcare are essential, they are not sufficient to promote an acceptable level of work-family balance for Japanese women. The crux of the problem lies in Japan’s firm-centered employment system that offers life-long employment in exchange for employees’ investment in firm-specific skills and knowledge. In this type of labour market, employers cannot afford career interruptions. (…)

     In the first (section), volume editor and author, France McCall Rosenbluth, opens the collection with the idea that fertility levels can be used a measure of “female welfare”. Based on previous research showing the positive relationship between “gender-friendly policies” and fertility levels, the author argues that low fertility is not only an outcome of women’s choice, but an indication of the difficulty women have in juggling the demands of work and motherhood. In the second chapter, Japanese sociologist Sawako Shirahase provides a statistical analysis of women’s work, income, and fertility in Japan.

     In the second part of the book, Margarita Estevez-Abe reviews theories of the welfare state to explore contexts that make motherhood and work more or less compatible. In the following chapter, Mary Brinton explores the clerical sector of the labour market. Using a US-Japan comparison, Brinton shows how American women’s entry into clerical jobs served as an engine for changing social norms with respect to female employment; Japanese women, in contrast, have made only modest strides in entering clerical jobs. In an international comparison, Eiko Kenjoh argues that good quality part-time work has given Dutch women a unique opportunity to successfully combine work and motherhood.

     Part three includes three chapters that provide a thorough account of Japan’s policies that are supposed to ease women’s burden in combining work and family. Each author concludes that the obstacles faced by women in the labour market are not overcome by these “family or gender-friendly” policies. Patricia Boling analyzes the history of maternity leave and childcare policies. Junichiro Wada focuses on childcare and criticizes the current system as still being inadequate for meeting working women’s needs, particularly in urban areas. Keiko Hirao offers a rich analysis of the pressure put on mothers to organize and oversee their children’s education. Examining the famous “cram schools” (schools for after-school hours) and the effect of children’s attendance in them on mothers’ lives and employment, the author shows how these schools do not substitute for after-school care but, in fact, represent another significant burden on mothers. Mothers must research schools, meet teachers regularly, and closely follow their children’s regular and “extra” studies. Consequently, the author’s data show that unemployed mothers are more likely than employed mothers are to educate their children in these schools.  



Accounting for Economic Evolution: Fitness and the Population Method‘ by Stan Metcalfe 

CRIC Discussion Paper No. 80  – feb. 2007 


The general themes of this paper are quite abstract, the population dynamics of economic evolution and the related concept of economic fitness. The justification for this unworldly discussion is that the idea of an economic population containing suitably differentiated members turns out to be a fruitful way to approach the analysis of industrial and market dynamics, technological change, innovation and enterprise, competition and economic growth. Thus it connects ultimately if remotely with the central historical, economic question of how wealth is created from knowledge. It provides a route to the treatment of the adaptive consequences of economic novelties that no other method can yield and provides an underpinning for the idea that what matters in explaining economic progress is not rationality alone but rationality in the context of differential behaviour. Variation, as Marshall so famously put it, is the greatest source of progress and it is to persistent entrepreneurial disagreement as to how economic activities should be conducted that we owe the remarkable increase in living standards since 1750. Two issues thus dominate an evolutionary view of economic progress, the sources of innovative novelties in economic practice, and the adaptation of the economic system to the potential contained in those novelties.

[View Paper




an extract from:  A biopedia dictionary of social sciences, June 23, 2008 edition    Worth consulting the dictionary also on other relevant issues like: bioanthropology, biogeography, biopower, biopolitics, biosocialism, bio social sciences, biotechnologies, chaos-order-self organisation, complexity, Darwin, emergence, evolution, Foucault, political economy. 


     In its main and broader sense, BIOECONOMICS is a new paradigm in economic sciences (but also a part of a  wider scene: complex biosytems, cognitive and bio-evolutive social sciences), pioneered by the philosopher Michel Foucault, the economists Niklas Georgescu Roegen, Dick Nelson and Sidney Winter, Giovanni Dosi and many others.  It brings life, its change and needs, therefore the complex interactions  “human systems – ecosystems” as well – at the fore:

A) both directly. By re-interpreting economic activities as biological ones in se, in some important and essential respect. Forgetting such a bio-base, as previous classic and neo-classic paradigms often did, leads to a number of misunderstandings:  abstraction from ecosystems; … ; (artificial) separation of human activities from the biosphere and the Earth.

B) And indirecty: as a metaphor model paradigm philosophy for analysing the bio-cultural evolution occurring in individual lives and their: cultures, environments, … , social interactions and systems, traditions.   

In this, it plays the same role as do similar paradigm shifts, e.g. in geography and history. Sometimes it is erroneously identified with just a single root in its complex genealogy, that we will now resume: 


      1. Darwin had an immediate, strong intellectual impact on the origin of social sciences. Marx had just one ambition: becoming the Darwin of social sciences, by displacing Rev. Malthus. Marshall found static maths inadapt, and thought economics should better use biological metaphors and models. By now, every economic school quotes, often a bit superficially, such complex bio-systems notions as emergence, evolution, fitness or self-organisation. Such a pseudo-bioeconomics was championed by Friedman’s AS IF  paper, and recurs in the neoclassic institutionalist AXIOM (e.g. Coase theorem) that:  “Whenever there is a market failure, an appropriate Agency will emerge, and self-heal  the market more efficiently than incumbent institutions and the State” (Aglietta 2002).  But, on the opposite front, true bioeconomics has established rigorous methodologies, analysing disequilibrium and adding to neoDarwinism other important natural processes -transposed into the social field – such as thermodynamics (entropy law) and self-catalysis. 


      2. Population modelling established new holistic bridges in between biology, math. modelling and social sciences: Volterra-Lotka predator-prey model in the 1930s, then  fishery modelling (Gordon 1954, Scott 1955, Schaefer 1957) and  now populations of firms studies (Gibrat’s law).


      3. From the 1970s, 5 concurrent but distinct approaches lay bioeconomic foundations and build upon them:

A) FOUCAULT pioneered a bio-political revolution across social sciences, and discussed it with Hérodote geographers (Cramton and Elden 2007). His tenet is that biopowers diffuse horizontally, pervade the society and compress freedom; sub-systems asynchrony (Natoli) allows for individual degrees of freedom, even in a bio-economic and bio-political society. A previous pioneer was Hanna Arendt (1958), arguing that Fordism was killing creativity and degrading work to labour, i.e. to a bio-economic level of cyclical interchange with Nature; but she opposed bio-politics.


B) GEOGRAPHY was already, traditionally anticipating bio-sociologies, because of its holistic constitution, and tradition of human-physical studies relations. Its computer-based  1970s Quantitative Revolution had tradeoffs: modelling specialism, or neo-classicism (New Urban Economics) decreasing holism. But, e.g., Entropy enters massively planning and applied regional science (Giorgio Leonardi, AG Wilson); at the same time, Georgescu Roegen introduces a philosophical meditation on it.


C) GEORGECU ROEGEN founded the paradigm, with such milestones as: the most sophisticated epistemology of economics ever made by an economist; Entropy in economics; a notion of Earth finiteness; the substitution of the abstract “function of production”, with a process-based Funds and flows manufacturing model.


D) NEO-RICARDISM (Garegnani, Napoleoni and Pasinetti) explodes with the publication of Piero Sraffa’s milestone. Pioneered by Leontiev, although this is more a return to Classic Political Economy, than a start of a bioClassic one, it draws a quantum advance in economic theories, and creates a new, fertile intellectual environment. It simply makes “Ground 0” of the neoclassics: showing their logical circularity (Garegnani), and depriving them of any sense, in a multi-sectoral frame.


E) NELSON and WINTER (together with Arthur, David, Dosi, Freeman, Malerba, Metcalfe, Pavitt, Perez, Teece and Aglietta-Boyer-Coriat’s  French regulation school): drawing on technology studies, Simon’s behaviourism neo-institutionalism, the two economists founded the post-Schumpeterian school of  Bio-Evolutionary Economics. Competition is a cultural process of selection of routines (the DNA of organisations), and evolution of populations of agents and institutions (e.g., technology diffusion -driven industrial dynamics).



P.A. Corning (2005),  Holistic Darwinism: Synergy, Cybernetics, and the Bioeconomics of Evolution. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.  —  J.W. Crampton and S. Elden eds. (2007), Space, knowledge and power: Foucault and geography. Aldershot: Ashgate.  — R. Esposito (2004; English ed. 2008), Bìos. Biopolitica e filosofia. Torino: Einaudi (namely ch.1 on bio-social sciences before Foucault). —  M. Foucault   (1976), Volonté de savoir. Paris. Vol. 13 of History of sexuality. — N. Georgescu Roegen, Entropy      — G. Hodgson and T. Knudsen (2008),  In search of general evolutionary principles: Why Darwinism is too important to be left to the biologists. Springer Jo. of Bioeconomics,  10:  51-69.  — G. S. Levit, K. Meiser and U. Hoβfeld (2008),  Alternative evolutionary theories: A historical survey. Springer Jo. of Bioeconomics,  10: 71-96.   — Nelson R. and S. Winter (1982), An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Development.  —   P. Seabright (2004), The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Springer Journal of Bioeconomics [1]          

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