The five careers of the biological metaphor in economic theory

Elias L. Khalil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The paper distinguishes among five different roles which the biological metaphor has played, or could play, in economic theory. First, the "selfish-gene" metaphor shows that non-human agents allocate scarce resources and behave non-selfishly according to rationality optimization - not different from how neoclassical theory models human choice. Second, the "ecological influx" metaphor examines the prowess of the non-human/human agent to produce surplus (net product), which differs from rationality optimization. Third, the "genotype" metaphor casts light on how the technology/institution scheme informs the development and behavior of organization. Fourth, the "organism" metaphor illuminates the order of organizations such as firms and states. Fifth, the "ecosystem" metaphor explicates the order of markets, which differs from the order of organizations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-52
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Socio-Economics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • Ecological influx metaphor
  • Ecosystem metaphor
  • Genotype metaphor
  • Organism metaphor
  • Selfish-gene metaphor

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