Two Kinds of Success, An Unnamed Natural Law

Two Kinds of Success, An Unnamed Natural Law


 There are two kinds of success. One kind damages or destroys what it depends on, the other doesn’t. History and theater teach that distinction about the ambitious, evolution and religion apply it to the masses. This logic is inescapable, especially in economics.

An as yet unnamed natural law, as powerful as “survival of the fittest,” eliminates anything that destroys whatever supplies its needs. We’re the first species that can know, or do anything about, this. Other species are bound by their genetic fate but we’re the least hard-wired species ever. We alone choose how we organize ourselves.

Economists increasingly organize us, typically using ideas about mindless market “mechanisms” automatically solving our problems. Their faith in the organizing power of (often unenlightened) self-interest is misplaced. Here’s 12 ways free markets “fail.” But even when they don’t fail, they can’t cure “spontaneous disorders” (see also Darwin’s Wedge). Only central coordination can.

A useful idea from evolution distinguishes things that survive (genes) from their vehicles (bodies they’re in). No gene survives without cooperating with other genes in its vehicle. And genes that damage their vehicle weaken themselves. Vehicles extend beyond bodies by “inclusive fitness”: Helping relatives helps shared genes. Economists could usefully apply similar ideas:

1. Markets = vehicles: Division of labor creates dense dynamic webs of dependence. Not damaging vehicle-mates is crucial. Limiting success strategies or gains that weaken your vehicle(s) is wise.

2. Caesar's error: How elites seek status is critical. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar was ambitious for himself ahead of Rome (his success endangered his city). Societies or economies that permit or promote such ambition undermine themselves.  

4. Structural sin: That’s what Christian philosophers call unintended harms caused by the structures in which individuals act. Unguided markets organize the masses to create (often indirect) harms (e.g. climate change).

5. Do no self-harm: Even those who’d happily harm others, can’t escape. It’s irrational to ignore the health of what supplies your needs. That only works if you free ride on the efforts of others who maintain your markets, community, economy, country, and planet.  

6. Me-only market myopia: We must be governed by the logic of the health of the whole and prevent detrimental success-seeking. Chasing any growth (increasingly captured by corporate Caesars) isn’t a cure.

7. Needism: Here’s a fifteen word fixKnow your needs. Don’t damage what supplies them. Don’t let others, either. Or you’re doomed.

Ensuring that success doesn’t damage what we all depend on is as important as what President Obama calls “the defining challenge of our times” An ethos of unbalanced self-maximizing in markets not only creates economic inequality, it can be self-undermining and risks undermining our collective future.

 

Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.

Is the universe a graveyard? This theory suggests humanity may be alone.

Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?

According to the Great Filter theory, Earth might be one of the only planets with intelligent life. And that's a good thing (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA]).
Surprising Science

Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.

Keep reading Show less

Beyond the two cultures: rethinking science and the humanities

Cross-disciplinary cooperation is needed to save civilization.

Credit: Public domain
13-8
  • There is a great disconnect between the sciences and the humanities.
  • Solutions to most of our real-world problems need both ways of knowing.
  • Moving beyond the two-culture divide is an essential step to ensure our project of civilization.
Keep reading Show less

Stephen Hawking's black hole theory proved right

New study analyzes gravitational waves to confirm the late Stephen Hawking's black hole area theorem.

Model of spiraling black holes that are merging with each other.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
Surprising Science
  • A new paper confirms Stephen Hawking's black hole area theorem.
  • The researchers used gravitational wave data to prove the theorem.
  • The data came from Caltech and MIT's Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast