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Bionomics

BIONOMICS

Bionomics is a field of economic thought. It breaks from previous economic philosophy by situating economics as an extension of biology and ecology. Proponents of bionomics, such as its founder Michael Rothschild, reject what they describe as the idea of the economy as a mechanistic process, and instead view the economy as an "evolving ecosystem." Adherents interpret all actors and elements in an economy as organisms acting naturally and organically in a complex web of relationships, some cooperative and some competitive.

Bionomics takes as its metaphor the natural evolutionary process in which actors seek to survive in a complex and changing environment, working toward ever-greater levels of complexity and efficiency. Thus, bionomics interprets economic phenomena as autonomous; the economy essentially runs itself. In his book Bionomics: The Economy as Ecosystem, Rothschild insists that all the technological information available in modern books, on the Internet, in journals, and in people's brains forms the basis of modern life in the same manner in which DNA constitutes the basis of biological life. This concept applies only to capitalism, which is viewed as a natural and spontaneous system, as opposed to socialism, which proponents of bionomics view as a belief system.

As a result, bionomics has more or less fixed and determined ideas about economic policy. Basically, it suggests that governments should do as little as possible to interfere with what it interprets as a natural, organic process. Thus, bionomics looks down on governmental regulations, re-distributive tax schemes, and other measures to plan, control, or fix the economy. Markets are viewed as the optimal means to achieve economic efficiency and societal improvement.

Critics view bionomics as an elaborate apologia for right-wing politics, and as replicating some of the uglier manifestations of social Darwinism beneath a guise of ecological and biological science. Some, such as economist Paul Krugman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, go so far as to accuse bionomics of failing to grasp either traditional economics or natural evolution. And while bionomics criticizes governmental action for impeding rather than nurturing technological development, debunkers point out that nearly all high-tech industries in which the United States is competitiveincluding biotechnology, computers, the Internet, and electronicswere heavily subsidized, protected, and developed directly and indirectly through governmental intervention. Despite such criticism, bionomics won strong support from powerful groups and individuals, including the libertarian think tank The Cato Institute and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

FURTHER READING:

Borsook, Paulina. Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High-Tech. New York: Public Affairs, 2000.

Kakutani, Michiko. "Silicon Valley Views the Economy as a Rain Forest." New York Times. July 25, 2000.

Krugman, Paul. "New-Age Market Theory is Bio-Babble: Pseudo-Economics Meets Pseudo Evolution." Ottawa Citizen. November 1, 1997.

Prime, Eugenie. "The Spider, the Fly, and the Internet." Econ-tent. June/July 2000.

Rothschild, Michael. Bionomics: The Economy as Ecosystem. New York: Henry Holt, 1990.

"Welcome to the Bionomics Institute." San Rafael, CA: The Bionomics Institute, 2001. Available from www.bionomics.org.

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bionomics

bionomics (by-ŏ-nom-iks) n. see ecology.

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