There has recently been a lively interest in the ontological foundations of evolutionary economics. Among the various attempts to strengthen these foundations, the project of ‘generalized Darwinism’ has arguably attracted most attention, if only because it has been hotly debated. This debate has reached a stage where there is a recognized need to move from considerations of the general principles of evolution to the development of middle-range theories of specific economic phenomena. This paper engages in such an exercise and explores how the principles of generalized Darwinism can further evolutionary theories of economic growth. The paper demonstrates the value of generalized Darwinism in two steps. It first shows how the explanatory logic of Darwinism helps identify the strengths and limitations of the seminal evolutionary theories of economic growth developed by Schumpeter, Penrose, and Nelson & Winter. It subsequently uses Darwinian logic to propose an integration and extension of core elements from these three theories. The result of this exercise is a view of firms as ‘Darwin machines.’ This view contributes to extant evolutionary theories of economic growth in two ways: by offering a better understanding of the nature of productive knowledge, and by better capturing the interplay of agency and structure in the accumulation of productive knowledge–the phenomenon that is central to evolutionary theories of economic growth.
Jan-Willem Stoelhorst is Associate Professor of Strategy and Organization and head of the Strategy and Marketing section at the Amsterdam Business School, University of Amsterdam. He received his PhD degree in management studies (cum laude) from the University of Twente, the Netherlands. His research interests include the application of evolutionary theory in the social sciences (in particular economics) and the application of evolutionary and economic theory in management (in particular the field of strategy). He is coordinator (with Jack Vromen) of the research area ‘The Ontological Foundations of Evolutionary Economics’ for the European Association of Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE). Dr.ir. Stoelhorst is currently a Visiting Fellow at the KLI. Selected Publications Strikwerda J, Stoelhorst JW (2009), The emergence and evolution of the multidimensional organization. California Management Review 51: 11-31. Stoelhorst JW (2008) Why is management not an evolutionary science? Evolutionary theory in strategy and organization. Journal of Management Studies 45: 1008-1023. Stoelhorst JW (2008), Darwinian foundations for evolutionary economics. Journal of Economic Issues 42: 415-423. Stoelhorst JW (2008) The explanatory logic and ontological commitments of generalized Darwinism. Journal of Economic Methodology 15:, 343-363. Van Raaij EM, Stoelhorst JW (2008) The implementation of a market orientation: A review and integration of the contributions to date. European Journal of Marketing 42: 1265-1293. Stoelhorst JW (2008) Generalized Darwinism from the bottom up: An evolutionary view of socio-economic behavior and organization. In: Advances in Evolutionary Institutional Economics: Evolutionary Modules, Non-Knowledge, and Strategy (Elsner W, Hanappi H, eds), 35-58. Cheltenham: Elgar. Stoelhorst JW (2005), The naturalist view of universal Darwinism: An application to the evolutionary theory of the firm, In: Complexity and the Economy (Finch J, Orillard M, eds.), 127-147. Cheltenham: Elgar. Stoelhorst JW, van Raaij EM (2004) On explaining performance differentials: Building blocks for a marketing theory of the firm. Journal of Business Research 57: 462-477. Stoelhorst JW (2002) Managing technological discontinuities: Lessons from the semiconductor industry. International Journal of Technology Management 23: 261-286.