Professor Samuel Bowles Santa Fe Institute and University of Siena
Why are good ideas like antelopes? For most of human history – the first 90,000 years of it at least – valuable resources such as large games were difficult to own individually and as a result when captured, they were shared. The emergence of agriculture 11,000 years ago allowed for the evolution of the modern idea of individual property rights in land, domesticated animals, goods and other valuable contributions to our livelihood.
But the resulting economy of grain and steel is being displaced by the economy of ideas and information. In the new "weightless economy" most goods cannot be weighed, measured, or fenced. Good ideas are indeed like the kudus and other large games that once formed a major part of our subsistence: the pursuit of a new operating system, a new drug, or a hit tune is uncertain, and when the hunt is successful, it is not only wasteful not to share the prey, it is often impossible to prevent it from being stolen.
The speaker provides a history of the long term development and transformation of property rights drawing on recent behavioral experiments in hunter gatherer societies. The speaker also uses evolutionary game theory and computer simulations of how systems of property rights might respond to the challenges of the weightless economy. Will the reform of intellectual property rights succeed in domesticating the kudu? Or will innovations like Linux and Napster foster a new system of incentives and property rights? Professor Samuel Bowles (PhD, Economics, Harvard University) is Research Professor at the Santa Fe Institute where he heads the Behavioral Sciences Program. He is also Professor of Economics at the University of Siena. He taught economics at Harvard from 1965 to 1973 and at the University of Massachusetts, where he is now emeritus professor. His recent studies on cultural evolution have challenged the conventional economic assumption that people are motivated entirely by self-interest. These have included the mathematical modeling and agent-based computer simulations of the evolution of altruistic behaviors by means of multi-level selection and behavioral experiments in 15 hunter-gather and other small-scale societies. Professor Bowles' current research also includes both theoretical and empirical studies of the role of incomplete contracts in labor markets and financial markets in explaining income inequality.
Professor Bowles has also served as economic advisor to the governments of Cuba, South Africa and Greece, to presidential candidates Robert F. Kennedy and Jesse Jackson, and to the World Bank and the International Labor Organization.