Just throwing out some random ideas, on subjects I know little or nothing about, that are only vaguely related, hoping someone better than me might pick some up and run with them properly. Read at your own risk.
(My family had been tenant farmers on the Sebright estate, and my father was keen on history, so I recognised the name when I was reading Darwin.)
"Darwin found a pamphlet by Yarrell's friend Sir John Sebright with a passage reading:
A severe winter, or a scarcity of food, by destroying the weak and the unhealthy, has all the good effects of the most skilful selection. In cold or barren countries no animals can live to the age of maturity, but those who have strong constitutions; the weak and the unhealthy do not live to propagate their infirmities.
After reading the pamphlet, Darwin commented "excellent observations of sickly offspring being cut off so that not propagated by nature"
Sebright talked of females falling to "the most vigorous males" and of how "the strongest individuals of both sexes, by driving away the weakest, will enjoy the best food, and the most favourable positions, for themselves and their offspring."To Darwin, while nature removed runts and thrust the fit forward, "the whole art of making [domestic] varieties" by selecting mates to breed an ornamental duck produced "a mere monstrosity propagated by art"."
Two things struck me on reading Darwin. First, that it was a very densely argued thesis. He doesn't just state his theory, provide a bit of supporting evidence, then stop. There's even a whole chapter on geology! Second, Darwin was a very hands-on scientist. Not just the voyage on the Beagle; he did a lot of his own experiments, joined pigeon-breeders clubs, and talked to everyone, including people like Sebright. (Which economist comes anywhere close, in coming up with big ideas that change how we see the world and in being hands-on?)
Evolution doesn't stop when the Malthusian constraint is lifted. There is always some process deciding which of us will have more surviving children and grandchildren than others. Sir John's preference for a particular type of feather, rather than Malthusian diminishing returns and shortage of food, was the constraint that determined which of his bantams would breed.
If I eat an apple you cannot eat that same apple too. Apples are "rival". If I use an idea to diagnose a fault in my car that doesn't prevent you from using that same idea to fix your car too. Ideas are "non-rival". Apples are usually "excludable", except when I cannot prevent the kids from taking my apples without my permission. Ideas may be excludable, when they are protected by patents, or they may not be, as in "open science".
Because ideas are non-rival, a bigger population, which has more new ideas, may benefit from faster technical change. It's the same in biology, where a bigger population means more mutations, and faster evolution. But will the new ideas spread, or will others be excluded from using them?
I'm on the Benchmark Steering Committee at Carleton. We take some administrative process that doesn't seem to be working very well, ask other universities (or non-universities) how they are doing the same job, and copy the university that seems to be doing it best, maybe adding a few tweaks of our own. Perhaps surprisingly, other universities don't seem to mind when we do this. They actually cooperate in telling us how they do things so we can steal their good ideas. Maybe it's an exchange, in that they don't mind telling us their good ideas as long as we don't mind telling them our good ideas. But nobody seems especially concerned to form a club to prevent free-riding on the public good.
From my limited experience, farmers are the same as universities. Farmers get together and talk farming over beers just like economists get together and talk economics over beers. Just as Sebright talked about his agricultural innovations to Arthur Young, Darwin, or anyone who would listen. It seems they want other farmers to copy their good ideas.
Why are universities and farmers so very different from makers of high-tech gizmos like Samsung and Apple?
It might be differences in the nature of competition between firms. If Samsung uses a good idea, that hurts demand for Apple's products, and vice versa. There's a small number of competing firms. It's an oligopoly. If a farmer's immediate neighbours use a good idea, that increases their productivity, that will have a negligible effect on the total supply and price of of wheat. Or the total demand and price of inputs like land and fertiliser. There is a very large number of competing firms. It's perfect competition. Unless the good idea spreads to all farmers across the world. But that's unlikely to happen quickly, if at all, so the farmer ignores that risk when he is talking with his neighbours.
But I'm less confident that explanation works for universities. Universities tend to have local markets, where they are in oligopolistic competition with a small number of rivals in the same area.
I wonder if there's anything equivalent in biology? In a small numbers game, where a small number of large creatures compete against the same Malthusian constraint of diminishing returns, do they tend to fight more (unless they are genetically related)? In a large numbers game, where a large number of small creatures each takes the prices of resources as given, do they tend to fight less?