Walter E. Williams

President Obama also told the Washington Hilton crowd that "we are not a country that was built on the idea of survival of the fittest." Obama is not by himself, but "survival of the fittest" is one of the greatest misunderstandings of Charles Darwin's pathbreaking work "On the Origin of Species." When Obama and most other people use the expression "survival of the fittest," they suggest that a bunch of people or animals are competing with one another and the strongest, smartest or cleverest survives. That's not what Darwin and evolutionary biologists have in mind. Instead, what they have in mind is that those who survive have characteristics that make them better-equipped to survive and hence reproduce themselves in a particular environment. They are not laying waste to their competitors.

Let's try a few survival of the fittest questions. Which companies do you think should survive and expand, those that can meet the changing wants of their customers in a least-cost fashion or those that cannot do so? If the means of communication become cheaper through fax machines, the Internet and telephones, should subsidies be expended to help the U.S. Postal Service survive? Years ago, typing was done on a mechanical typewriter; milk was delivered to doorsteps via horse and wagon; slide rules were used to make calculations. Should any of these products and practices have survived, or was it OK for natural selection to consign them to the dustbin of history?

Try cornering the president or his supporters, and ask them whether they believe government should ensure that the unfit survive and rather than "you're-on-your-own economics" there should be "you're-on-somebody-else economics."


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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