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Integrating the human sciences to evolve effective policies

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  • Biglan, Anthony
  • Cody, Christine

Abstract

This paper describes an evolutionary perspective on human development and wellbeing and contrasts it with the model of self-interest that is prominent in economics. The two approaches have considerably different implications for how human wellbeing might be improved. Research in psychology, prevention science, and neuroscience is converging on an evolutionary account of the importance of two contrasting suites of social behavior—prosociality vs. antisocial behaviors (crime, drug abuse, risky sexual behavior) and related problems such as depression. Prosociality of individuals and groups evolves in environments that minimize toxic biological and social conditions, promote and richly reinforce prosocial behavior and attitudes, limit opportunities for antisocial behavior, and nurture the pursuit of prosocial values. Conversely, antisocial behavior and related problems emerge in environments that are high in threat and conflict. Over the past 30 years, randomized trials have shown numerous family, school, and community interventions to prevent most problem behaviors and promote prosociality. Research has also shown that poverty and economic inequality are major risk factors for the development of problem behaviors. The paper describes policies that can reduce poverty and benefit youth development. Although it is clear that the canonical economic model of rational self-interest has made a significant contribution to the science of economics, the evidence reviewed here shows that it must be reconciled with an evolutionary perspective on human development and wellbeing if society is going to evolve public policies that advance the health and wellbeing of the entire population.

Suggested Citation

  • Biglan, Anthony & Cody, Christine, 2013. "Integrating the human sciences to evolve effective policies," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 90(S), pages 152-162.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:90:y:2013:i:s:p:s152-s162
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2012.12.018
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gordon B. Dahl & Lance Lochner, 2012. "The Impact of Family Income on Child Achievement: Evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(5), pages 1927-1956, August.
    2. Gowdy, John M. & Dollimore, Denise E. & Wilson, David Sloan & Witt, Ulrich, 2013. "Economic cosmology and the evolutionary challenge," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 90(S), pages 11-20.
    3. Brown, Charles, 1999. "Minimum wages, employment, and the distribution of income," Handbook of Labor Economics,in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 32, pages 2101-2163 Elsevier.
    4. Henrich, Joseph, 2004. "Cultural group selection, coevolutionary processes and large-scale cooperation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 3-35, January.
    5. *Unicef, 2007. "Child Poverty in Perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries," Papers inreca07/19, Innocenti Report Card.
    6. Wen, Ming & Browning, Christopher R. & Cagney, Kathleen A., 2003. "Poverty, affluence, and income inequality: neighborhood economic structure and its implications for health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 57(5), pages 843-860, September.
    7. David Neumark & Scott Adams, 2003. "Do Living Wage Ordinances Reduce Urban Poverty?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 38(3).
    8. Kirk Brown & Tim Kasser, 2005. "Are Psychological and Ecological Well-being Compatible? The Role of Values, Mindfulness, and Lifestyle," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 74(2), pages 349-368, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. John C. Boik, 2016. "Optimality of Social Choice Systems: Complexity, Wisdom, and Wellbeing Centrality," Working Paper 0005, Principled Societies Project, revised Mar 2017.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Antisocial behavior; Evolution; Policy; Poverty; Prevention; Prosociality;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • I14 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Inequality
    • J18 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Public Policy
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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