Survival of the Richest Turfholders, Not the Fittest Individuals

Presentation January 20, 2022, now posted to You Tube

In The Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin proposed that species evolved from common ancestors by “natural selection.” Philosopher Herbert Spencer called it “survival of the fittest.”

In Progress and Poverty (1879), Henry George denounced Darwin’s theory as Malthus on steroids. It provided “scientific” justification for British and American claims of white racial superiority and progress over backward societies.

Darwin himself had reservations about “survival of the fittest.” In 1871 he published a theory of sexual selection. In some species, males become weaponized with big teeth or antlers to fight other males for turf and/or females. In other species, notably birds, females choose beautiful males, leading to features like gorgeous but cumbersome peacock’s tails.

George was the last of the classical economists. “Neoclassical” economics replaced classical in the late 1800s. Yet classical economic theory provides a compelling alternative to “survival of the fittest”:

Classical economists recognized that holders of superior quality land enjoyed unearned income or benefits known as “rent.” This allowed them to live luxuriously and wastefully. George emphasized how such “land monopolists” withheld good land from productive use.

Likewise, in any species, occupants of superior habitats also enjoy ”rent”, as extra food, or better shelter, or better mating opportunities. This reduces survival pressure, allowing many varieties to thrive despite apparently “unfit” features. Only recently have ecologists recognized the impact of inherited wealth in animal societies.

Presentation January 20, 2022, now posted to You Tube

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