Friday, August 25, 2006

Paying the price

Biology can tell some of the most compelling stories of Economics at work. This post by Carl Zimmer is a great example of the problem of Public goods. The question here is why some of these critters "willingly" sacrifice themselves so that others may breed.
The theory of altruism pioneered by Haldane and Hamilton can explain such behavior when the parties are closely related, but not when they are totally unrelated. Any gene that leads to such behavior would quickly die out. "The evolution of virtue" by Matt Ridley had a great discussion of such issues.


gaddeswarup said...

I thought that what is invoved in public goods is 'reciprocal altruism' pioneered by Trivers ( I think Hamilton had some role in this too in work with Axelrod). I may be wrong. I think that I am learning from your posts but these concepts are still a bit hazy to me.

Rajeev Ramachandran said...

"Reciprocal altruism" is involved, but thats only one element. It an't really explain a lot of altruism- thats where inclusive fitness comes in (a gene being nice to itself). ;-)