Vexing line of the day

In an article that begins...

It sounds glib to say that every age moulds Charles Darwin to its own preoccupations, but the temptation is hard to resist. To the Victorians, he was an atheistic agitator undermining humankind's privileged moral status.

...The Observer's Philip Ball follows it with:

In the early 20th century, he became a prophet of social engineering and the free market.

Talk about being all things to all people.

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That quote makes perfect

That quote makes perfect sense. One aspect of evolutionary theory is that differences in the fertility of genetically different groups make a huge impact in the long run for a species. Thus, coercive "social planning" (i.e. eugenics) has been seen as justified.

Another, more general aspect of evolutionary theory is that it is an example of order arising spontaneously. Sound familiar? I doubt this is what the author has in mind when connecting Darwinism to the free market. He is more likely referring to the common notion that an unregulated market is a free-for-all in which the strongest survive and the weakest fall by the wayside (in an analogy to the extinction of a less-fit species). Of course, we know this is nonsense; on the contrary, the least competitive members of society are (or would be) greatly benefited by a free market.

It is interesting that the author throws out a line at the end comparing creationism to "climate-change denial." One could just as well compare the current irrational "climate change" orthodoxy to the religious views prevalent in Darwin's time.

Survival of the fittest is

Survival of the fittest is actually a really good model for firms in a free market. Bad firms die, while good ones survive and "reproduce," either in the sense of growing larger or in the sense of inspiring imitators. Market selection is one of the major reasons why markets work so much better than government.

But yes, claiming that it applies to individuals as well is just stupid.

There's no true natural

There's no true natural selection in a free market: when a competitor inspires reactions or imitations, that's more Lamarckian than Darwinian.

Also, the other father of evolution through natural selection, Wallace, was fiercely socialist.

Survival of the fittest is

Survival of the fittest is actually a really good model for firms in a free market.

True; mathematical models of evolutionary dynamics have been applied with some success to market situations.

Bad firms die, while good ones survive and "reproduce," either in the sense of growing larger or in the sense of inspiring imitators.

Yes, and "intellectual property" laws could be likened to a kind of sterilization...