Evolution and Economics – updated 8 Sept

The Last Vanity of Man: How the Darwinian Revolution Can Fix Economics

The inability to acknowledge our Darwinian nature leaves reformers in an awkward position.

I kind of agree with the author.

Evolution is about differential survival acting as a filter.

If the context is such that there are insufficient resources for all to survive, then competitive strategies will dominate.
If there are sufficient resources for all, and there are many other threats to survival, then cooperative strategies are most effective (provided attendant strategies are present to prevent cheating).
This is games theory 101 stuff.

So humans have both competitive and cooperative natures, at both genetic and cultural levels, and which gets expressed is highly context dependent, and there are lot of modifying probabilities at play, that mean that pure strategies are seldom present.

It seems that much of human evolution has been in a sort of stochastic “sweet spot” where other forces have kept populations at levels that have meant that we are highly biased towards cooperative strategies (and we can all compete if required).

In a competitive world, where most resources were in fact scarce, then market based economics and money made good sense – it worked in practice.

In a world of exponentially expanding capacity to automate and deliver universal abundance, then markets (with their value basis in scarcity) fail to deliver sensible outcomes.

It is technology, with the exponentially increasing capacity to do more with less, that is changing the fundamental context of the game.

Markets are past their “use by” date.

Cooperation can pay far higher dividends to everyone than competition, in every conceivable metric except money; because anything universally abundant must, by definition, like the air we breath, have zero market value.

We are neither angels nor devils.

We are human.

Yes we have all these possible ways of being that are well codified in culture, and many more beside (a potentially infinite collection possible).

There is no logical limit to our creative potential.

Understand Darwin, Dawkins, Axelrod, Ostrom, Wolfram!

We have a real chance at creating universal prosperity, using technology, to create a context where cooperation of all players delivers the best possible outcome for all.

The only catch is – economics must die!
We have to stop thinking in terms of exchange values, and start thinking in terms of automated systems that deliver universal abundance of goods and services.

[followed by]

Hi Jayarava

To me, it is not games theory that is the problem, it is the way in which some people apply it.

And it all depends what we understand by the term “ideology”.

To me, the greatest problem with humanity has been and is the tendency to search for simple models, simple heuristics.

We have so many tendencies towards simplicity, that we often adopt models that are far too simple for the complexity that actually exists.

From another perspective, one can view the course of history as interactions of different types of models of reality with different sets of strategies employed within the sets of models present.
From this perspective, it is the evolution of the depth and complexity of the models that is most interesting.

The earliest models all assumed truth, and developed various strategies for identifying truth. Most used the heuristics of “gods” to make some sort of sense of the very complex environments within which they found themselves.

Slowly, many different classes of heuristic evolved.
People at different levels started to become aware of the limits of various sort of strategies, and their interactions, and most models were still dominated by the idea of truth, most looked for purpose externally.

Newton is perhaps the greatest exponent of this addiction to truth, with his ideology of a clockwork universe controlled by mathematical laws. A device very powerfully exploited by the ruling classes of the time in one sense.

Einstein did something different, he looked at what observations seemed to say was real, and put those numbers and concepts into the best mathematical models available, and followed where the logic of mathematics went. That took Heisenberg and others to places of profound quantum uncertainty. The search for truth at the macro, leading to the most profound uncertainty at the micro. Something Einstein could never quite accept (he wasn’t alone in that, not too many people at all have really accepted it, or its deeper implications).

Darwin gave us a mechanism for how complexity and order can emerge from simplicity.
Many others contributed to the details of the many levels of physical and strategic complexity that arise in that process.
Dawkins extended that whole logical framework to the realm of ideas, and in so doing opened the possibility of perhaps infinite recursion to higher levels (not too many people have gone far down that path).

While neither may not have gone very far down those paths themselves, they are most certainly to be acknowledged for the pioneering work they did in opening the infinite realms they did to exploration by others.

I did not come from privilege, but rather from poverty.

A tiny flap of skin under my tongue meant that I could not make an “R” sound until about 7 years old – so as a young child I was treated as retarded by many, the target of abuse by many. I learned to avoid social groups, as such interactions almost always ended badly for me. So I learned that safety lay in places like libraries. I found interest in the sets of ideas contained in the words of others, and in the complexity of nature and technology. So being largely ignored by adults and children alike, I was essentially free to follow ideas where they went. A habit I have continued throughout life.
I don’t particularly worry about social agreement.
It’s nice when it happens, and it doesn’t happen often.

I am much more interested in reality.
What is it?
What is it like?
Why does it behave as it does?
What sorts of other ways might it behave?
How does one transition from one state to another?
How do we understand it?
How are we part of it?
What is a human being?

I am dealing with very complex, multi dimensional models.

I don’t have truth.
I have possibilities, probabilities, dispositions to action, systems, boundaries with permiabilities in many different dimensions.

Games theory is one of the very important and highly dimensional tools that I use.
It is not simple.
The simplest model of a human being that I find useful contains 20 levels of very complex sets of systems, with linkages both sideways within levels, and up and down between levels. 10 levels are physical, influenced by genetic evolution, 10 levels are mimetic, subject to both physical and behavioural influence. Each level contains many complex systems within it.

Human beings, each and every one of us, are the most profoundly complex systems I am aware of.

“Ideology” for me, in the context described above, is not about control.
In the model I have, ideas have influence, disposition to action in complex systems.
The ideas that seem most important to me are individual life and individual liberty.

And as individuals, we all must exist in physical and social realities.
So liberty in this sense is not any sort of unfettered freedom, but is rather a responsibility to act in ways that do not cause unreasonable risk to the life and liberty of others.
So we must act responsibly in both social and physical/biological contexts.

So I don’t have truth.
And I am aware that many people still accept ideas like truth, and laws, and have them as realities in their worlds.

I have uncertainty, profound uncertainty most places I look, and in a few areas I have a certain level of confidence.

I am very confident, that continued reliance on values generated in markets can only lead to exponentially increasing risks to everyone.

I am very confident that we can all enjoy profound levels of choice, freedom and security if we consciously choose to transcend market values and create technologies that deliver profound abundance to all (no exceptions – that means for the 1% and the 0.0001% as well as the rest of us).

I am clear that there are an infinite set of possible transition strategies. I am not attached to any particular one.

I am committed to the transition.

[followed by – he responded TL:DR (too long, didn’t read)]

The major issue of our age – most prefer simplicity to real depth.
How can they live?

[followed by]

I read something, thought about it, and I wrote something.
You read what I wrote, responded.
I read what you wrote, thought about it.
I responded to you in a little greater depth.
Your response – Too long, not going to read it.
That is a possible response.

You said you prefer clarity (which is another name for simplicity) and my “long rambling comments” lack it.
In a certain sense, yes – I am pointing to relationships that are not at all simple or clear, and are often “murky” at fundamental levels (like quantum mechanics).

This is actually a problem in our society.
Most people are looking for rules and certainty (clarity) where it really does not exist, where attempts to put it there are at best mistaken and at worst deliberately deceptive; and in both cases dangerous. The human power for self deception is unlimited.

And that is a very deep set of explorations into ontology and epistemology, far deeper that anything Searle has attempted to date.

Marx had some interesting ideas (though a particularly boring pedantic style of writing from my perspective), I found David Harvey’s view of Marx particularly interesting, though still insufficient when one brings the conceptual tools given us by the likes of Darwin, Russell, Wittgenstein, Einstein, Heisenberg, Turing, Goedel, Axelrod, Wolfram et al into the picture.

Lots of interesting writers and thinkers out there, who bring aspects of the systems into clarity (in as much as any sort of clarity is even possible). David Snowden on complexity is one of the better ones.

I am not surprised that my writing lacks the clarity you seek.
There is profound complexity and uncertainty in many of the realms I inhabit. There is no language possible for the clear communication of such abstracts – something like the C notation of ****Evolution might point to the depth of abstraction in a particular context, but not localise to any particular instance (of the infinity available) of abstraction at that level.
That is one of the profound difficulties of dealing with abstraction, in every individual mind, each level of abstraction must be discovered anew. The more levels one goes through, the greater the linkages one discovers, and the less adequate is language for communication to any other.
One can gain a certain level of skill in choosing contexts where a particular mind is more likely to make an abstraction for itself, and that is as much as any of us can do.

[followed by – different substhread- to Ohminus]

I think we fundamentally agree.

I am all for creating a world where cooperation completely dominates as an organising principle, and where there are many levels of active secondary strategies present to prevent cheating, and where the principle values are individual life and individual liberty (within a responsible cooperative set of social and ecological contexts). And that is about as simple as I can make it, and each of those words encompasses masses of complexity.

And in doing that, creating that system, it is powerful to be as clear as possible about the systemic and strategic environments that have bought us to where we are.

There is a fundamental point at which the predator prey relationship is competitive, and not at all cooperative. Individual life, individual liberty, cannot have security within an environment where the predator prey strategic relationship exists. That set of strategies cannot be amongst the strategic sets tolerated, it must be amongst the class of sets that qualify as “cheating”, and must have secondary strategies present to effectively remove it from the real social context.

The thing to get, is that does not mean removing people, it only means altering their behaviour such that such strategic sets do not get expressed in practice in a way that threatens the life and liberty of other individuals. Lots of ways of doing that that still allow such strategies to express, such as gaming environments (be they golf courses, rugby fields, or some form of virtual reality).

I agree with you, that pure market systems will tend to drive physical systems to a level of scarcity that maximises profit, and that there may in practice be many cases of “overshoot” leading to far from optimal outcomes even from a profit based perspective.

I am also making the further claim, that the often made promise of free markets, to decrease poverty, is clearly false in any sense that most people would accept.

Human well being has a need for security.
Markets introduce profound insecurity.
Many people are currently experiencing profound anxiety.
As many as 20% of the adult population in “Western” countries are now on some form of anti anxiety medication.

Advertising and spin and “news” only work to a degree.
There does come a point where reality starts to seep in around the edges of dogma and belief.

As I stated at the start of this piece, I am clear that universal cooperation is possible.
I am also clear that such cooperation can never be the natural outgrowth of market forces, and must always be resisted (in a very real set of senses) by the incentives of any market based way of setting values.
It takes a level of choice that is beyond markets.

Human behaviour is extremely complex.
It has aspects that are habitual.
It has aspects that are strategic.
It has aspects that are heuristic.
It can have aspects that are logical.
It has aspects that are random.
It has aspects that are intuitive.
And in a very real sense, if the context is appropriate, it has aspects that are fundamentally cooperative (and in other contexts competitive).

Context is king.

Managing context is the key to creating a sustainable, secure future.

It seems clear to me that there is no limit to the levels of context possible, though most people seem to deal only with relative small integers of levels (1, 2 or 3 being most common – and to be clear it seems that any level may be infinite, and contain infinite complexity in both algorithmic and strategic senses). Once you get past 10 it can be difficult to be confident about the distinction between levels and instances of conceptual sets within levels. Everything becomes a vast probabilistic and heuristic network of complexity in the deepest sense of complexity.

[Response to Laura “And why isn’t there a similar one [good feeling] for being selfish?”]

There is. We have both. Which one gets expressed depends entirely on context.

Have you ever been in a serious fight, and felt the elation of beating an opponent – same thing different context.

If our subconscious makes the assessment that there is enough for all, then it will reward cooperative over competitive behaviours. {That same assessment of how much needed stuff is available also influences the size of the set we we are prepared to cooperate with, which may be as small as one sibling or one friend, or immediate family, or community, or tribe, or country, or planet or sapience more generally. How big the “in group” can become is very much a function of how abundant we experience reality as being. This is where the fundamental tension between our technical ability to automate production and thence deliver universal abundance and our dominant social system of using markets (a scarcity based measure) to measure value, has now reached crisis point. In order for markets to work, scarcity must exist for some. At some point, there comes an awareness of that fact, generally, in society. One of the things about making cooperation stable is a need for secondary strategies to prevent cheating. One of the secondary strategies we all have is a sense of injustice. When a large fraction of the population becomes aware that the only reason for their experience of lack is a system sponsored by a few for their individual benefit, then the sense of injustice will lead to system destabilising conflict. In an age of nuclear weapons, that is not a stable solution for anyone. The only meta-stable solution is replacing the scarcity based system (markets/money) with one based in abundance for all from fully automated and widely distributed production of all essential goods and services. Everyone, even the set of “the few” in the current system, is better off.}

The math for how that works is a little complex, and depends on the frequency and intensity of different sorts of contexts in our evolutionary past (in both the genetic and cultural senses of evolution) and the rewards (impact on long term survival) in both cases.

And it isn’t that complex.
It just relies on the frequencies of contexts being in a general set of bands of probability over time, a bit like orbital frequencies for electrons in quantum mechanics (but not quite).

[side thread to Alex]

Hi Alex,

Several aspects here that are best decoupled to understand more clearly.

To start with, be clear that I am proposing that we stop using markets and money as a prime measure of value. The prime reason for that, is that market values all involve some function of scarcity, meaning that universal abundance of anything has no market value.

The next idea to look at is abundance – what does it mean?

Abundance, in practice, means having all you need when you need it.

Our technological productivity is doubling every year. Our population has been doubling every 30 years, and the more choices we give people, the slower the rate of population growth. Having children takes a lot of time and energy. Given real choice, most people limit family size and explore other options in life (which doesn’t mean limiting sex, only conception – evolution only gave us a sex drive, not a conception drive – it was close enough in our less technical past).

Abundance is very much a function of the technology available. When our ancestors were hunter gatherers, we needed lots of territory to find enough food. Now we can fully automate the production of food in controlled environments optimised for that function, and feed a person from less than 100 square meters.

Most people actually have reasonable needs that are quite limited, and can quite easily be met with a few tonnes of matter and a few tens of kilowatts of continuous power. Atomic level refining and manufacturing means we can recycle everything with 100% efficiency in terms of matter (it just costs energy, which the sun delivers an abundance of).

Infinite growth can occur in the domain of possibilities, the different ways in which that mass and energy is configured to provide experiences. In an age of fully automated and full distributed production, anything that is created anywhere can, within a few seconds be available as plans to anyone else anywhere on the planet, as something their machinery can produce.

Even a gram of matter contains more possible arrangements than could possibly be explored in the remaining age of this universe.

I am not in any way advocating stasis, quite the inverse.
I am quite explicitly advocating infinitely expanding diversity.
Such diversity does not require expanding amounts of either matter or energy.
And for those who choose to remain on this planet, there will be limits on the amount of mass and energy available to express that diversity, and those limits will be the sort of limits that anyone alive now would consider a high standard of living.

If your thing is serious engineering, plenty of mass and energy for that available off planet, which you could do either remotely by some form of tele-presence or by actually going there yourself.

[back to Laura]

You didn’t answer my question Laura.

Have you ever had that feeling, in a life threatening conflict situation?

If you have, and you honestly think that it is as you describe, that I will listen to.
I have, and for me it was not as you describe.
For me, it was as I described.

[followed by]

You still haven’t answered my question.

Answer it I’ll answer yours.

[followed by]

[followed byIn response to Daniele]

It seems to me there is a major error in your thesis Daniele.

It is not ideas that are deserving of respect, but the people that hold them.

There are many ideas around that are useful heuristics only in very limited domains (like the idea the earth is flat, great if you are building a hut using wood, hammer and nails, not so good if you are building a sky scraper with high precision pre-cast components, or traveling even a few hundred miles by sea).

And it depends very much what one is doing, as to the level of systems understanding that is required to make useful and reliable judgments. You don’t need to worry about quantum mechanics to build a wooden boat, but you definitely do if you want to build a nuclear power station, or design a new form of semi-conductor device, or understand the full range of human behaviour.

If your objective is to create social systems that support personal security and personal freedom on the very long term, then one must be prepared to look deeply into evolutionary theory, probability, games theory, complexity theory, biochemistry, cybernetics and systems theory more generally and quantum mechanics.

If you do that, then you will start to understand something of the complexity of what human beings are, and why they tend to behave in the general classes of ways of behaving that they do. You will begin to see why market based economics has now become the single greatest cause of risk to the survival of us all (through its influence on the probabilities of other forms of conflict that would become the more proximal cause of death and destruction on an entirely unmanageable scale – in terms of personal risk).

And that is not simple.
We are not simple.
No simple theory of what a human being is, or how human beings behave, will work in the complex set of contexts that actually exist.

Sure, in some specific types of contexts, our behaviour is remarkably uniform, but not in others.

Simplifying assumptions can and do work in some contexts, and not all.

Human beings really are the most complex things we are currently aware of in this universe. And I say that as someone who has had a deep technical interest in the subject for over 50 years.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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