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The Origin of Utility

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  • De Fraja, Gianni

Abstract

This paper proposes an explanation for the universal human desire for increasing consumption. It holds that it was moulded in evolutionary times by a mechanism known to biologists as sexual selection, whereby a certain trait - observable consumption - is used by members of one sex to signal their unobservable characteristics valuable to members of the opposite sex. It then goes on to show that the standard economics problem of utility maximisation is formally equivalent to the standard biology problem of the maximisation of individual fitness, the ability to pass genes to future generations.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 5859.

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Date of creation: Oct 2006
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:5859

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Related research

Keywords: Darwin; natural selection; sexual selection; utility;

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References

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  1. Ted Bergstrom, . "On the Evolution of Altruistic Ethical Rules for Siblings," Papers _023, University of Michigan, Department of Economics.
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  14. Bagwell, Laurie Simon & Bernheim, B Douglas, 1996. "Veblen Effects in a Theory of Conspicuous Consumption," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 349-73, June.
  15. Horan, R.D. & Bulte, E.H. & Shogren, J.F., 2005. "How trade saved humanity from biological exclusion: An economic theory of Neanderthal extinction," Open Access publications from Tilburg University urn:nbn:nl:ui:12-148673, Tilburg University.
  16. Wärneryd, Karl, 2001. "Rent, risk, and replication: preference adaptation in winner-take-all markets," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Market Processes and Governance FS IV 01-10, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
  17. Frank, Robert H, 1987. "If Homo Economicus Could Choose His Own Utility Function, Would He Want One with a Conscience?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 593-604, September.
  18. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard H, 1990. "Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1325-48, December.
  19. Rogers, Alan R, 1994. "Evolution of Time Preference by Natural Selection," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 460-81, June.
  20. Hansson, Ingemar & Stuart, Charles, 1990. "Malthusian Selection of Preferences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 529-44, June.
  21. Ok, Efe A. & Vega-Redondo, Fernando, 2001. "On the Evolution of Individualistic Preferences: An Incomplete Information Scenario," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 97(2), pages 231-254, April.
  22. Corneo, Giacomo & Jeanne, Olivier, 1997. "Conspicuous consumption, snobbism and conformism," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 66(1), pages 55-71, October.
  23. Cole, Harold L & Mailath, George J & Postlewaite, Andrew, 1992. "Social Norms, Savings Behavior, and Growth," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(6), pages 1092-1125, December.
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Cited by:
  1. De Fraja, Gianni, 2009. "The origin of utility: Sexual selection and conspicuous consumption," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 51-69, October.

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