Evolutionary Economics in Russia: Report on a Conference

Journal of Economic Issues, June 1995 | Go to article overview
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Evolutionary Economics in Russia: Report on a Conference


A symposium titled "Evolutionary Approach and Problems of Transitional Economy" was held in Puschino,(1) Russia, September 12-15, 1994, which was sponsored by the Institute of Economics and the Central Economic and Mathematical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Of some 40 participants, about 30 were from Russia; one was from England and one from The Netherlands (Gerald Silverberg); four or five were from other former Soviet Republics; and about three from Eastern European countries. I was the only participant from the United States. The Russian participants were professors from Moscow State University and other universities and members of several institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Not surprisingly, there was much interest in evolutionary economics. This interest was combined with much displeasure with and distrust of mainstream neoclassical economics as well as skepticism of the strategy of "shock therapy." It should go without saying that these Russian economists, at the highest levels of the discipline in Russia, often have their own political agendas and interests, and that part of their interest in evolutionary economics arises from their perception of the service that evolutionary economics can be to them in both their scholarly and political activities. For some participants, evolutionary economics may be an intellectual stalking horse against marketization. My impression, however, was that evolutionary economics seemed more attractive to most, if not all, participants because it recognized more variables and problems-and therefore was more realistic-than did neoclassical economics.

The conference was a mix of formal and casual. Several major papers were presented along with both formal and informal commentaries; several papers were circulated rather than formally orally presented. Approximately half of the discussion dealt more or less strictly with evolutionary economics; the other half concerned recent policy developments in Russia and her predicament after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the adoption of a program of transition to a market economy. So far as I could tell from public presentations and private conversations, all participants supported the demise of the old political tyranny and sympathized with the change to a market economy, though substantially all had reservations about the process and costs of adjustment.

This report attempts to summarize the treatment given "evolutionary economics" during the symposium.

I am not able to attribute many ideas to particular individuals. This is in part because of lack of knowledge of (and difficulty of "catching") names of many participants, many of whom spoke for only five or ten minutes, and in part because of the need to concentrate, while taking notes, on the simultaneous translation coming through an earphone. So perhaps this report is probably best understood to present my summary of the translators' version of the original statements. The few words in quotation marks below are those of the translators. The principal addresses from my perspective were given by L. I. Abalkin (formerly a high official in the Gorbachev government), V. L. Makarov, V. I. Mayevsky, and O. Ananjin. What is presented here is therefore a distillation of the ideas of many people.

The Nature of Evolutionary Economics

1. To the participants at the conference, evolutionary economics had several sources or components, in no particular order: (1) the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin (explicit); (2) the social theory of Max Weber (perhaps as understood through Talcott Parsons) (implicit); (3) the economic and technological dynamics of Nicolai Kondratieff (explicit); (4) the evolutionary dynamics of modern genetics, evolutionary biology, systems analysis, and population demographic dynamics (explicit); (5) the analysis of the processes of creative destruction of Joseph Schumpeter, considered by at least some as the founder of modern evolutionary economics (explicit); and, inter alia, (6) the combination of modern theories of the firm, cognition, and adaptation, such as Richard Nelson and Sidney Winter (explicit).

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