The Secret Economic Lives of Animals: Economics isn’t just a human activity….

Fascinating piece by Ben Crair:

Economists study human behavior. “Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog,” Adam Smith sniffed in The Wealth of Nations. The ability to “exchange one thing for another,” he declared, “is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals.” Later economists, inheriting Smith’s self-regard, rechristened man Homo economicus in the belief that rational self-interest defined the human species. Even John Maynard Keynes, the father of modern economics, attributed our irrational choices to “animal spirits.”

But an animal spirit can actually be entrepreneurial. Consider a January study about paper wasps from the journal Nature Communications. A female paper wasp will recruit “helper” wasps to her nest to raise her offspring, and these helpers can usually choose from several different nests in a given area. The wasps are essentially making a trade: The top female offers helpers membership in her nest in exchange for childcare, and she can kick out a helper who doesn’t pull its weight.

What’s remarkable is that the terms of the wasps’ trade are determined by supply and demand. When the paper’s authors increased the number of nests in the field, they found that females were willing to tolerate smaller contributions from their helpers. The paper wasps behaved like any rent-seeking landlord, just as an economist would predict. A greater overall supply of wasp nests lowers the price of entry into any single nest. “In order to predict the level of help provided by a subordinate, it is necessary to take into account the state of the surrounding market,” the authors wrote.

If Adam Smith had strapped on a bee suit—or a safari jacket, or a scuba mask—he could have discovered that the animal kingdom is, in fact, a chamber of commerce.

Wow..

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