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The Darwin Economy: liberty, competition, and the common good


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Speaker(s): Professor Robert H. Frank
Chair: Paul Mason

Recorded on 10 November 2011 in Old Theatre, Old Building.

Who was the greater economist--Adam Smith or Charles Darwin? The question seems absurd. Darwin, after all, was a naturalist, not an economist. But Robert Frank, New York Times economics columnist and best-selling author of The Economic Naturalist, predicts that within the next century Darwin will unseat Smith as the intellectual founder of economics. Frank's new book is entitled The Darwin Economy. In this conversation with Paul Mason, economics editor of BBC 2's Newsnight, Frank will argue that the reason for this is that Darwin's understanding of competition describes economic reality far more accurately than Smith's. The consequences of this fact are profound and our failure to recognize that we live in Darwin's world rather than Smith's is putting us all at risk by preventing us from seeing that competition alone will not solve our problems. The good news is that we have the ability to tame the Darwin economy. The best solution is not to prohibit harmful behaviours but to tax them. By doing so, we could make the economic pie larger, eliminate government debt, and provide better public services, all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone. That's a bold claim, Frank concedes, but it follows directly from logic and evidence that most people already accept.

Robert H. Frank is an economics professor at Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management and a regular "Economic View" columnist for the New York Times, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos. His books, which have been translated into 22 languages, include The Winner-Take-All Society (with Philip Cook), The Economic Naturalist, Luxury Fever, What Price the Moral High Ground?, and Principles of Economics (with Ben Bernanke).

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