An interesting piece from the Boston Globe on “genoeconomics”:

Though the name wasn’t coined until 2007, genoeconomics flickered briefly into existence once before. In 1976, the late University of Pennsylvania economist Paul Taubman published the results of a study in which he followed the financial lives of identical twins, and found there were curious similarities in how much money they made as adults. Taubman concluded that between 18 percent and 41 percent of variation in income across individuals was heritable.

It was a startling conclusion, and one that Taubman’s fellow economists didn’t quite know what to do with. One joked that Taubman’s findings meant the government might as well shut down welfare, since clearly some people would remain poor no matter what.

….After Taubman, the idea that genes had an important role to play in decision-making was largely abandoned in the world of economics. But with the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2000, the first full sequence of a human being’s genetic code, people started wondering if perhaps it would be possible to push past broad heritability estimates, of the sort that Taubman generated, and figure out what part of a person’s genome influenced what aspect of his behavior.

…Over time, social scientists started coming to terms with the fact that even the most heritable of traits, such as height, were influenced not by one or two powerful genes, but by a combination of hundreds or even thousands—and that environmental factors, like a person’s upbringing, play a complex role in determining how those genes are expressed. “Every single direction has proved to be less promising than people originally expected,” said Laibson.

… hope lies in a new approach to data-gathering that is only just getting underway, wherein researchers look for patterns among thousands, and even millions of people—numbers that are only just becoming possible thanks to massive collaborations linking gene studies being conducted all over the world.

The researchers in question, Daniel Benjamin, David Laibson, David Cesarini and others, seem worried about the possibility of tracing attributes and behavior to genetics. Most of the big news is out already, however, and more easily observed in phenotype than genotype.

For more on the new approach see The genetic architecture of economic and political preferences.


Comments for this post are closed