RE: [unrev-II] Breaking the Vicious Economic Cycle

From: Bill Bearden (
Date: Fri Jun 23 2000 - 11:03:00 PDT

  • Next message: Eric Armstrong: "Re: [unrev-II] Breaking the Vicious Economic Cycle"

    I find it amusing that yesterday I received posts about both Chaordic
    Organizations and the "Vicious" Economic Cycle. On the one hand, we like the
    idea of unconstrained organizations growing from communities of like minded
    individuals. It makes sense that these organizations could have less overall
    friction and therefore be more efficient. On the other hand, many people are
    caught in a reality of high cost housing and rat-race careers. The same
    system that has caught them is justifiably blamed for its negative
    by-products (pollution, de-forestation, rock-hard tomatoes, etc...).

    But isn't the Free Enterprise system really a wonderful example of a
    Chaordic Organization? It is millions (billions?) of people working
    together. I find this irony exquisite: common good is achieved in the name
    of self-interest.

    Think about where your food comes from. When you visit your favorite Chinese
    restaurant and eat your General Tso's Chicken, how does that happen? Did you
    think to call the chicken farmer ahead of time? Did you direct the
    ship-captain who sailed with the crates of ginger? Did the cook's parents
    immigrate at your request? No. But these things all happened so you could
    enjoy your meal.

    We talk about complexity. Complexity is a problem. Well, I got your
    complexity right here. And the more I look at it, the more incredible it
    gets. Coordination out of chaos. Good from greed. There are literally
    millions of people out there anticipating and providing for your needs. No
    king in the ancient world ever had it so good.

    Ok, maybe that is a little over the top :). But hopefully you get the point.
    They put self-interest and freedom in the pot, stood back, and this is what
    happened: an integrated system of incredible scope. Call it "The Big

    Now, the system is far from perfect. It is not the best we can do. But it
    might be the best we can do for now. I believe we will be ready for a new
    system when all people (not just us ;-) are motivated more by the common
    good than by self-interest. And at that time, it won't matter what system is
    in place.

    How can that happen? I don't know for sure*, but I think it is important. In
    1776, Adam Smith wrote about the "invisible hand" (a.k.a. self-interest) in
    his book, The Wealth of Nations. That hand has been behind the work of
    humans for thousands of years. We have achieved magical things. But, we have
    done great damage.

    Replace the old hand with common good. If people were just as motivated,
    perhaps we could still achieve. And people would be less likely to inflict
    the damage. If we achieve common good in the name of self-interest, what
    could we achieve in the name of common good?


    *I dream too. My utopian sci-fi scenario** involves virtual reality and what
    happens when supply exceeds demand. In cyberspace, what is the cost of a big
    house? Next to nothing: it is just a few trillion bits. Theoretically, most
    of the material goods of our world become basically free. How will people
    react when "virtual wealth" is universal? (Stay with me here...) Well, when
    something is plentiful, it loses value. It is possible that people will be
    able to have anything they want. Then there will be no marginal value to
    this virtual material. Loss of value means loss of motivational gravity. If
    acquisition of material is no longer the motivating force, then what?
    Knowledge? Wisdom? How can their supply ever exceed the demand? The use of
    wisdom is "right action". Truly correct action causes no damage. QED? Maybe?

    **Alternatively, nano-manufacturing might do the same thing in the
    non-virtual world. Could a nano-factory build a house from the carbon atoms
    it "harvested" from the air? There's lots of extra C02 floating around these
    days because of all that forest burning. Although, I'm not sure the
    non-virtual house would ever be totally free.

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