Emergence of autocatalytic sets in a simple model of technological evolution

Wim Hordijk, Stuart Kauffman, Roger Koppl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two alternative views of an economy are combined and studied. The first view is that of technological evolution as a process of combinatorial innovation. Recently a simple mathematical model (TAP) was introduced to study such a combinatorial process. The second view is that of a network of product transformations forming an autocatalytic set. Autocatalytic (RAF) sets have been studied extensively in the context of chemical reaction networks. Here, we combine the two models (TAP and RAF) and show that they are compatible. In particular, it is shown that product transformation networks resulting from the combinatorial TAP model have a high probability of containing autocatalytic (RAF) sets. We also study the size distribution and robustness of such “economic autocatalytic sets”, and compare our results with those from the chemical context. These initial results strongly support earlier claims that the economy can indeed be seen as an autocatalytic set, and reconcile seemingly opposing views of evolution vs. mutualism in economics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1519-1535
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Economics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • Adjacent possible
  • Combinatorial innovation
  • RAF
  • TAP

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Economics and Econometrics


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