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Darwin Unlikely to Supplant Adam Smith in Economics

In elevating the economic value of Charles Darwin over Adam Smith in the New York Times, Robert Franks misrepresents Smith. Franks claims that Darwin, better than Smith, accounted for conflicts between individual and collective interest. But Smith knew of such conflict. His invisible hand reliably guides private self-interest to socially beneficial outcomes only under a stable rule of law. For markets to work, rule of law must fetter private actors--prevent them from killing, defrauding, and stealing from each other. So Smith's market "competition" is neither anarchy nor Darwinian nature, red in tooth and claw.

Franks offers examples that he claims favor Darwin's account. From illegal steroid use to mortgages that misrepresent the underlying risk of a loan, however, we have a violation of rule of law, not a breakdown in the invisible hand. The "Darwinian" nuance adds nothing to Smith's account, so I doubt, contra Franks, that economists will be praising Darwin in 2109.