12 February, 2008

Moving Beyond Capitalism (But Not Through Socialism)

Before you read this post, you have to watch this video:

When you're done watching, read on. I'll wait for you.

Okay, finished watching? Good. Now I have a few things to say. But before I start, I want to share the first thing I wrote down when I first watched this:
I'm still trying to think about how a cooperation-based economy would be fundamentally different than a capitalist economy. I'm not entirely sure I followed where he was going with this talk....
Is he saying that we might be able to create a new form of economy where each of us works together in ways that create wealth for us all as opposed to just ourselves? His mention of the ultimatum game seems to be used as evidence to show that even when we lose out in a capitalistic sense, we may have an innate desire to cooperate in such a way that everyone gains fairly in the end. Is he extrapolating this to say that the new economy will be one where a companies might start doing things that help everyone, even when self interest ceases to be a motivating factor, simply because to not be fair is to invite the wrath of a public which expects cooperation no matter what?
Regardless of whether this is what he was in fact thinking, this is where his talk has taken me. The altruistic punisher effect, as he showed it, is quite small. On the large scale, the only thing close to it is a society which bands together via taxes to impose regulations on others. But a HUGE portion of society (I'm talking about you Ron Paul fanatics who visited this blog for the sole reason that this entry came up on google blog search for the "Ron Paul is awesome" quote that I just gave) does not feel that these regulations are a good idea. (Even Ann Coulter has publicly stated that when she listens to Ron Paul speeches, she starts to fall in love with him up until he talks about foreign policy, at which point she says she regains her sanity.) Is it possible that while the altruistic punisher idea works consistently on the small scale, it breaks down at larger scales?
I'm thinking about it, and it certainly makes sense that if the ultimatum game is played with a million dollars, and player A claims $900 000, you'd have to be crazy to turn down the $100k. Yet then he starts to give examples of companies that are starting to go altruistic today. As more and more companies fall into this mold, will it happen that we as a society will come to expect such behavior, and then punish those companies that don't exhibit it? If so, then companies will HAVE to be cooperative, even if it is to their detriment, since if they don't, society will make it even further to their detriment.
... To be honest, I'm still really fuzzy on all this. If you ask me again tomorrow, I may hold an entirely different view. But today, as I write this, the idea seems not only plausible, but also the evidence Howard Rheingold gave seems to actually support the idea that we could be moving in that direction as we speak.
What do you think?


  1. I liked the ultimatum game illustration. I think the true challenge is approaching with everyone realizing that if we don't choose to take the fair share than we loose the whole share. $55 is a better bet that $0. Truly for this to motivate the entire population to realize it's true value we would have to remove the fear of each other which has driven competition and hierarchy for so long and replace it with a fear of competing against something that puts us all on the same team. Global warming is the only example that comes to mind currently. Our way of thinking needs to be more like a bonus pool in a business, where everyone gets a piece if we all hit the common goals together, not a everyone for there own survivor match where winner takes all and someone has to get voted off of the island. This is a very deep subject that could go of in plenty of directions of discussion.

  2. gregory scottFebruary 19, 2008

    eric, the primary difference i see between the current capitalist economies we have and one more infused with an understanding of the benefits of cooperation is that the tragedy of the commons --- specifically, the irreversibe depletion of common resources --- can be avoided. institutions that currently exist and operate within a culture of domination and exploitation, namely corporations and governments, would do well to better understand the wealth-generating power of increased openness, trust, and fair play; the game that is currently being played is finite, the unchecked quest for absurd levels of dominion and wealth is irrational and unwise for *all* of the players. in a cooperative economy competition would still be central and vital, it just wouldn't be the be-all end-all of the underlying principles of operation.

  3. The new collaborative way, IMO, will take a long time to become a widespread reality. Much as we may wish to see it arrive sooner, I do not see it happening except around teh internet based technologies in the near future. I'' be happy to be proved wrong in next 5 years!

  4. This idea is the topic of "A Conflict of Visions" by the brilliant Dr. Thomas Sowell.

  5. Beth SachtjenFebruary 19, 2008

    Another amazing talk from Howard Rheingold.

  6. David ChojnackiFebruary 19, 2008

    I'm an educator working with int'l schools in the Middle East and South Asia....a part of the world where collaboration is in short supply. I'm encouraged and fascinated by Rheingold's vision and wonder how we educators might consciously foster it among ourselves and among our kids. Bravo. (BTW, that suit is a real eye-catcher!)

  7. David ChojnackiFebruary 19, 2008

    Bud: thanks for the lead on Dr. Thomas Sowell. I'll follow it....

  8. Howard, I think you are right and still I cannot find the way to adopt collaboration as a normal attitude for people I work with. Many times it's hard to show to all parts involved in a relationships what the common benefits are and convince them to cooperate.

  9. Audrey ManningFebruary 19, 2008

    In 1992, in desperation, I headed up a project to keep [uneducated (?)] people in a rural area when the common property resource had been plundered to near extinction. Even though it was not articulated as such, cooperation was essential to survival on the traditional land. What transpired in that process was remarkable! It is too long a story to relate (email me if you want to hear more) but people found their voice, their talents and a place in the world that they had not thought possible through the discovery of cooperation. I am convinced that we have learned competition and should we be sane enough to stop teaching this behavior, we might find that cooperation is more innate than the desire to be the brightest and the best.

  10. Graeme HarrisFebruary 19, 2008

    Perhaps this is a human manifestation of Organization for Free.