I’m afraid the study of evolutionary economics is putting the cart before the horse, like so much of “cultural evolution” studies. Metaphors abound when good intentions mix with a lack of science education.
Evolution begins with ecological interactors. Why not study *ecological* economics instead of evolutionary economics? Humans, communities, and institutions are not in a vacuum – they interact with and build on their environment. Evolutionary environments are mostly biotic, and to a lesser extent abiotic. Let’s just take a moment to examine the evolutionary environment of the human economy.
Solitary organisms take in biotic and abiotic resources, sometimes distributing them to their family, and output them back into their ecological setting. But when it comes to social species, delineating social interactions from ecological interactions is completely artificial. The ecology of social species involves interactions among individuals, castes, different groups and populations. Human economic actors are often involved in primary production, yes, but they do not deliver these to their families alone. They trade and provide services, making them ecological interactors that can be characterized as symbiotic (parasitic, commensal or mutualistic), producers, competitors, predators and prey, etc. How does a not-for-profit charitable organization providing free tax advice compare with a profit-bloated multinational corporation that evades local tax laws? Is one mutualistic with its consumers and the other parasitic or even predatory? Finally, ecological relationships may be fleeting, as street bartering or even retail businesses can often be. Only when ecological relationships are stable across generations, do they lead to co-evolution.