So in my math econ class we're doing a lot of set and relation stuff, and so we're talking a lot about preferences for applications. It made me think of an interesting research agenda: looking at the evolution of economic rationality.
Certainly rationality didn't spring fully formed from human beings. But is it inherent in all animals? It doesn't seem like it would be hard to test a few basic things - transitivity of preferences, diminishing marginal utility, etc. - on a wide variety of animals with food, toys, etc.. My understanding is our knowledge of the genetics of existing animals helps us to map evolutionary trees and identify where certain traits evolved. It seems to me we could just as easily use data on animal preference relations to map the evolution of economic rationality too. The real leap with humans has been the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange. But presumably other elements of our economic behavior (which is really just allocative behavior - all animals do that) would go much deeper.
Has anyone tried this? I'm sure there's been some work done on animal preferences (in fact I know of work on primate preferences), but I doubt the evolution of economic rationality has been looked at.