Daniel Goldman

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Is capitalism best understood in the context of evolutionary science?

There is much debate as to what economic system works the best. I argue that capitalism is a system that has co-evolved with humans to be the system that best fits our psychology and also best takes advantage of evolutionary dynamics.

Looking first at the "selfish gene" idea, we see that it makes sense for us to do what we can to increase our own reproductive odds or at least those who may be closely related to us. Conspicuous consumption, and the accumulation of a larger material inventory, gives us a way to increase our own reproductive odds. For more information on conspicuous consumption, watch the TEDxConcordia talk by Gad Saad, The Consuming Instinct.

Free market capitalism, through the use of voluntary transactions, gives us a way to manage resources, and accumulate material inventory, without the use of force. It is something we can utilize because we have a robust system of communication, an the ability to create a nearly limitless material inventory.

However, capitalism's advantages, from the view point of evolutionary science, do not end there. Capitalism is not a stagnant system. Indeed, we can look at businesses and living entities existing within an ecosystem: the free market. Therefore, rules that apply to the evolution of biological systems, should also apply to the evolution of market systems as well.

  • Nov 19 2013: Actually, I think that there is little other than evolution which is best understood in that context. Evolution may provide a generalized analogy for many things, but the science of evolution is really only applicable to evolution.

    Capitalism, as with other overt human behaviors, is too subject to the kinds of sudden cataclysmic change that is anti-evolutionary. Scientist distinguish, for example, between cataclysmic change, such as the extinction of species by sudden disasters or by over-hunting, and evolutionary change, such as the adaptation of bacteria to antibiotics. In the strictest sense, economic systems don't evolve.

    Also, there is a problem with terminology. Calling a gene the "selfishness" gene is clever, but selfishness is a judgment about behavior, not a scientific concept narrowly defined. What you decide is selfish may not be what anyone else would say is selfish. There is also a distinction to be made between self preservation and species preservation, between personal profit and broader responsibility for the human race or for the world at large, between actions intended to enhance reproductive possibilities and those intended to enhance personal conditions.

    Evolution in nature is an unconscious process; not a deliberative one. Species change over generations, not within individuals. Individual and personal adaptation to current conditions (conscious or unconscious) isn't evolutionary, it's simply responsive.

    Capitalism, by the way, is neither s narrowly defined process, nor universally accepted as best fitting either human psychology or evolutionary dynamics. I would argue, in fact, that human behavior and technology has reached a point where we have begun to interfere with and to a degree exempt ourselves from the kinds of natural selection that evolutionary theory describes. We clearly no longer mate or reproduce in ways that natural selection for species survival would suggest.
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      Nov 19 2013: Evolution does not only occur in biological systems. Many systems evolve over time, and thus we can analyze these systems using the same or similar methodology to biological systems. For instance, in the same way that species change over time, due to certain select pressures, so do business models. In addition, what systems work best for humans is highly dependent on our collective psychology, which is a result of our evolutionary history.

      Well, we could argue about the nomenclature of the theory, but that doesn't change the theory itself. The selfish gene theory simply states that evolutionary dynamics creates a situation where an individual will work to increase its own reproductive odds, or those of individuals closely related to it. This explains why humans are conspicuous consumers and why we look to amass such a large material inventory.

      I'm not sure how your statement regarding evolution being an unconscious process really fits into the discussion. I never said that it was a conscious process.

      Look at A Consuming Instinct before you make a judgement regarding the role of evolutionary science in economics and other fields: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5fOdch-pKU
    • Timo X

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      Nov 21 2013: Moving from sea to land is a sudden change, but still evolution. Markets are certainly not deliberative, that's why Adam Smith spoke of an 'invisible hand'. And your conception of evolution leading to the 'best fitting' adaptation is simply wrong: evolution leads to better fitting adaptations, not best fitting. A good example is the occurrence of goose bumps in humans, which actually makes people more susceptible to cold. So I don't find any of your arguments very strong.
      • Nov 21 2013: please see my response above. I intended it to go here, but did something wrong. Sorry.
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          Nov 21 2013: I do that quite frequently. Usually I just delete it and copy it into reply. I'll be reading it in a moment.
  • Dec 3 2013: Indeed. In fact everything pertaining to human behavior can be explained throughout human ethology, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology.

    Critics of capitalism often accuse it of creating inequalities. But humans are inequal since they are born, we are born with differents intellectual quotients, which explain, partially, the differences in income.

    Of course i am not advocating some kind of social darwinism, the modern state should have a system to help the less favoreds to , at least , have the means to provide for themselves. But pure redistribution is not only theft, but also completely useless in solving the problem.

    Inequality, per se, is not a problem (only for the extreme jealous), misery and poverty are. Economy is not a game of zero sum, it is not because of the millionaires that we have the miserables.

    Even if it were, redistribution only creates a system of eternal dependents of the state to provide for them. Something close to this is happening right now in Brazil. Lula's Bolsa Familia diminished poverty and misery all around Brazil, but all those supported by the system are having a hard time leaving the welfare program, and each year the number of those supported by the system INCREASES, not diminishes.

    Also, all the cry for the millionaires and billionaires to share their wealth is a ridiculous demonstration of naivety. First of all, everyone has a different degree of empathy, if i ever become a millionaire i will never share my wealth with those i dont know, i feel little to no empathy to those i am not familiar with; so it would be very probable i would help my family and friends, but i would never feel obliged to help those that i dont know.
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      Dec 3 2013: "Rising and persistent income inequality. In 2012, the top 1% of earners in the U.S. collected 19.3% of the country’s total household income–an all-time high, according to work by Emmanuel Saez at the University of California at Berkeley. The disparity is growing rapidly as well. Incomes of the top 1% grew by 31.4% from 2009 to 2012, compared to just 0.4% for the remaining 99%. There is still considerable debate among economists on the impact of income inequality on economic growth and the short-term recovery from the recession. However, few would disagree that unchecked increases in inequality will be costly for capitalism in the long-run–due to the divisions that it creates within society and the strain that it puts on social safety nets."
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    Nov 30 2013: @ Daniel : Capital lies at the heart of Capitalism, and unfortunately the meaning and understanding of Capital is limited within the scope of even neoclassical economics. Need or necessity in life is not idea fixed in time and space, so supply and demand suffer wide disagreements. Even Marx's idea of surplus is not beyond criticism.
    The main objection to comparing Capitalism with Evolution is that the former is prosperity oriented while the later is survival oriented. The former seeks to create, accumulate and localize whereas the later seeks conserve, distribute and proliferate the respective dividends.
    The similarly ends at the level of trial and error.
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      Nov 30 2013: Your first paragraph is somewhat irrelevant, since as I said, those acting within the evolutionary process need not have knowledge of the process. Saying otherwise is equivalent to creationists who ask things like "but how did they know how to grow an eye".

      Both capitalism and evolution do both of what you have mentioned in your second process. It seems you are attempting to impress onto both a certain methodology. If an organism or business does not create, accumulate, and localize, it will starve and die. Likewise if a group of organisms or businesses do not distribute and proliferate respective dividends, their "kind" comes to an end.
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        Nov 30 2013: If you are trying to mean that just as those acting within the evolutionary process need not have knowledge of the process, those acting within Capitalism need not have knowledge of the process, you are taking the stand of the bourgeois. At best it can be said that those acting within evolutionary process and Capitalism hardly need to draw parallel to each other.

        No organism creates, accumulates and localizes individually for any reason other than basic survival; in biological terms at least, 'owning' is an absurd idea. Natural evolutionary processes proceed on 'no surplus' basis. In evolutionary competition, organisms just don't prosper, they merely survive while others do not. So, it is quite unclear how you can examine Capitalism, which is basically a process of creation of private surplus (which incidentally is impossible if all the other classes, particularly the labor, are weeded out completely in a manner akin to biological extinction) within the ambit of evolutionary sciences.
        Please check the recent talk by Dambisa Moyo http://www.ted.com/talks/dambisa_moyo_is_china_the_new_idol_for_emerging_economies.html, where she is presenting an equally effective economic process devoid of private ownership. One can claim that that alternative is best understood within evolutionary sciences for the same reason as yours. That will be a trivial generalization.
  • Dec 13 2013: First, capitalism doesn't exist.
    Second, capitalism isn't capitalism.
    Third, both of those statements actually make sense.
    What A means by "capitalism" is not what B means by "capitalism", and neither versions have actually been used in the real world.

    That being out of the way, there are a lot of different models that are called "capitalism", some of them are actually opposed to each other. It is possible for one "capitalist" to insist that governments must provide tariffs and subsidies for the benefit of large corporations in order to "support capitalism" while another "capitalist" insists that such government activity is "anti-capitalism".
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      Dec 3 2013: First, use the reply button, second...

      Show me a person who isn't naturally inclined to do what is in his/her best interests or the interests of those closely related to him/her. There are a few, but they are in the minority. Accumulating resources is a natural reproductive strategy, especially in humans since we can create such a large material inventory.

      Well, whether you accept it or not isn't exactly relevant. There are whole sub-fields using evolutionary dynamics beyond living/biological systems. We have sociocultural evolution, linguistic evolution and many other examples. This is in addition to evolving genetic algorithms which mimic evolution in biological systems and is used in software engineering.

      One question you did not answer is "do you agree that business models change over time as a result of selective pressures?"

      If so, why don't you consider that dynamic evolution?
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      Dec 4 2013: If by instinct we mean any evolutionary trait, it is quite wrong to argue that we are instinctive wealth gatherers or that we instinctively create a large material inventory. By natural order of evolution species gather only what is necessary for survival, gathering more than that may spell doom for them. There is no evidence that humans had a competitive edge in biological evolution for creating large material inventory that will one day open trade and commerce and eventually Capitalism when labor and production added to it.
      It appears more likely that humans started earliest of trades with objects they least needed for their survival in a given setting to other groups of humans who needed it more for survival. That's how demand came to exist.
      Moreover, Evolutionary Economics and Capitalism are quite different things.
    • Timo X

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      Dec 10 2013: "I do not accept evolutionary dynamics applying to non living things. Things are just things."
      I wonder what arguments you have for this claim. After all, hair, nails and bones are also just things, but most certainly the product of evolution. You may find this TED-talk by Martin Hanczyc useful in sharpening your thoughts: http://www.ted.com/talks/martin_hanczyc_the_line_between_life_and_not_life.html
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        • Timo X

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          Dec 11 2013: And you are entitled to your opinion, but the lack of justification makes your opinion irrelevant to the actual truth of the matter.
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        • Timo X

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          Dec 12 2013: Now you're just talking nonsense. Your opinion is your opinion, not the justification for your opinion. Something doesn't become true because it just happens to be your opinion.

          Either way, I already provided an example and even a TED-talk for how evolution can apply to non-living things, to which you responded that I was splitting hairs. I have no idea how you imagine that statement countered the argument I made. Even if your statement was right and I was splitting hairs, you would still be conceding that what I was saying is technically true. Ergo, evolution applies to non-living entities

          As for your most recent example, it gladdens my heart that you have the intellectual capabilities to realize and point out that car parts do not have sex. Common sense and a basic understanding of biology will only get you so far though. Sexual reproduction is not a necessary condition for evolution, as it does not, for example, apply to bacteria. The point of biological evolution is that an organism will evolve in the direction so that it better fits the environment it is in. This applies to car parts too. A car part that doesn't fit is useless, so it will be thrown away, broken down and remade into one that does fit.
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        • Timo X

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          Dec 13 2013: "A TED talk, my talk... both are opinions"
          "Asexual reproduction is sexual reproduction"
          "Here is what I know and you can look up Martin from Harvard"
          "The math hasn't even been done on living things yet"
          You lack of coherence is approaching complete decoherence. Someone from my country would say they cannot make chocolate out of what you're saying.

          Oh, and please kill me if anyone ever values your opinion enough to cite you as an authority on anything in any way whatsoever.

          I looked up 'Martin from Harvard': 72,800,00 hits.
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        • Timo X

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          Dec 13 2013: http://www.hummingbirds.arizona.edu/Faculty/Dornhaus/courses/materials/papers/Nowak%20Sigmund%20evolutionary%20dynamic%20game.pdf

          Would this be the article written by your old pal 'Martin from Harvard'? You demand mathematics, which I find strange considering you have such a hard time putting two and two together. Indeed, the authors of this paper do not seem to agree with you at all. They argue that evolution is better understood through concepts from game theory than through optimization algorithms. Game theory originates from economics, pioneered by the famous economists Von Neumann and Morgenstern. Why would they want to apply economic principles to "fields as diverse as metabolic control networks within cells and evolutionary psychology", I wonder.

          I can agree with you one thing though: you don't seem to care very much for truth. You are right, you know it, and anyone who demands proof is a moron. Good for you!
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        Dec 13 2013: I think this might be the right Martin from Harvard: http://athome.harvard.edu/programs/evd/

        Martin Nowak? Mike will need to verify this is his Martin.
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      Dec 3 2013: First, let's look at our evolution. Do you agree that we have evolved in such a way that we have an instinctual desire to accumulate wealth both for ourselves and those closely related to us?

      Second, you must understand that evolutionary dynamics is not limited to biological systems. For instance, cultures evolve. Business models also evolve. Do you agree that business models change over time as a result of selective pressures?
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    Dec 3 2013: “What will be the biggest challenge to capitalism in the next two decades—and what should be done about it?”

  • Dec 3 2013: Cont:

    Second that those cries ignore completely the way human sexuality has evolved. Money is a biological advantage in procreation. Sharing it is the same as making it less likely that your genes are going to perpetuate. To have a more ''equal'' society human females would have to behave more like Bonobos, or, at least, try to consciously ignore money and power as attractive qualities in males.( of course if you are a female and are not attracted to those ''qualities'' dont feel offended, this is a pertinent generalization and i dont think i have to explain why)

    And third, those cries ignore human free will. Again, every human experience empathy in a different level, we are not obliged in such a short existence to try and diminish suffering all around us. Evidently that some people are so empathetic that they dedicate their lifes to others, but it is silly to expect this sort of behavior being universal.
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      Dec 3 2013: Allow me to respond to your point about "Attraction is a instinctive response," here.
      Do you have any supporting research about this? I can easily site something about attachment theory acting as an influence on attraction. Its why abused women are attracted to batterers for one.

      These are issues that are highly complex in humans and have no simple or singular answers, but more generally "Men date largely for sexual reasons, while women are more concerned to evaluate a man's prospects as a long term mate. " The question is how this applies economically to capitalism in the evolutionary sense.

      So regarding your idea of avoiding them, we are psychologically predisposed, not instinctually
      • Dec 3 2013: That actually is not even open to debate. It is a scientific fact.


        '' And, since the ultimate point of beauty is to signal who is a good prospect as a mate, what makes a face beautiful is not only an aesthetic matter but also a biological one''


        ''What makes a face attractive and why do we have the preferences we do? Emergence of preferences early in development and cross-cultural agreement on attractiveness challenge a long-held view that our preferences reflect arbitrary standards of beauty set by cultures. Averageness, symmetry, and sexual dimorphism are good candidates for biologically based standards of beauty. A critical review and meta-analyses indicate that all three are attractive in both male and female faces and across cultures. Theorists have proposed that face preferences may be adaptations for mate choice because attractive traits signal important aspects of mate quality, such as health. Others have argued that they may simply be by-products of the way brains process information. Although often presented as alternatives, I argue that both kinds of selection pressures may have shaped our perceptions of facial beauty.''

        There are tons of studies arriving at those same conclusions: beauty is not a social construct; it is in fact an evolutionary display of biological advantage; being attracted to those displays is not conscious action; women not only take beauty as the only aspect for future sexual partners, but also characteristics that sign future or immediate financial capability to be the provider.
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          Dec 3 2013: Fact? This is the next to last sentence.
          "None of this absolutely proves Dr Elia’s hypothesis. But it looks plausible. If she is right, facial beauty ceases to be an arbitrary characteristic and instead becomes a reliable marker of underlying desirable behaviour"

          Re: beauty is not a social construct
          Some societies like them large, some like them skinny or hair or blond. It's not a universal. Whether we make an unconscious choice because of DNA...hmmm. Ok.

          Dan Ariely. a Behavioral Economics professor from Duke Uinversity has addressed this typic in some ways. His claim is that hanging out with an ugly friend make you more appealing to women. His also photoshops faces, using two left-side to form one face, and two right sides. Most of us have a distinct better looking half. But all this proves nothing. It is as I said complex.
          The question is, not whether it is learned or instinctive, but how it applies to the economics.
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          Dec 3 2013: Well, I do have to say that there are both biological and cultural elements to beauty. Symmetry being appealing seems to be universal and is probably a biological trait. However, concepts in beauty that differ from culture to culture are skin tone and weight.
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    Dec 2 2013: Does capitalism, in its evolutionary terms, select Jerks or Saints?
    This is this question this Forbes article asks.

    • Timo X

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      Dec 16 2013: Interesting article! I've also heard on multiple occasions that psychopaths, aka people with antisocial personality disorders, do better as business leaders. Could be a myth, but talk about jerks! (And it certainly lends some credence to that one friend always complaining about his 'psycho' boss.)
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    Dec 2 2013: When one looks are the statement under consideration where does it include any of these ideas? There is no mention of capitalism in its nature form.

    " I said that the current form of capitalism is not the natural form it should take. The problem is that constantly government manipulation of the market has resulted in a small collection of entities controlling the majority of the resources."

    If the premise is that market systems evolve, why are you arguing for capitalism in its "nature form?" Where do we find that?
    The reality is the there are many forms of capitalism. This is how the theory has evolved.

    When I reflect on this entire discussion it occurs to me that this is not about evolutionary capitalism as much as it is against Welfare capitalism.
    (Welfare Capitalism) is an economic system in which decisions about how resources should be used are actually made partly private sector and partly by public sector (ex. U.S., Japan, and others)
    It is a system where most wealth is generated by businesses, but the government plays a major part in allocating resources. The resources are obtained from business and workers in the form of taxes.
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    Dec 2 2013: The only Real Capitalists are the ones who do not need to toil because their capital - their wealth - works for them making ever more wealth.

    All those others who depend on wages and salaries are simply tools - lemmings - being used by the Real Capitalists to create and increase their capital.
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      Dec 3 2013: How do you define "real capitalists"? I define a capitalist as one who engages in capitalist activities, nothing more.
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        Dec 4 2013: the above is the definition and all the other actors are their tools because all the others have to toil for a living but NOT SO for the capitalist.. their wealth toils for them making them more wealth...
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          Dec 4 2013: Your definition is an emotional one rather than a scientific one. It is based off of your own personal negative view of capitalism. Since capitalism, at its basic level, is defined as an economic system characterized by private ownership of the means of production, it makes sense to define a capitalist, simply as someone who engages in economic activity in such a system.

          Try looking at economic theory from a scientific point of view, you might learn something, and you might provide something more useful than your hatred towards a system. Realize for instance, that your initial comment is quite meaningless in the context of the question I have asked. How have you related it in any way to evolutionary dynamics? How have you contradicted anything I have said in regards to its relation to evolutionary dynamics?
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        Dec 4 2013: humbug laddie. the suffix ist denotes an specialist or adherent to a particular principle or belief or practice.. While capitalism is all about the acquisition and accumulation of capital the capitalist is the guy that has mastered the process by putting themselves above all those who still toil in the fields of capitalism. .
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          Dec 4 2013: I could probably accept that, but then does your current definition involving ist really fit your previous definition? I support free market capitalism. Am I a capitalist?
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    Dec 2 2013: (TED deleted the original comment so I will repost this including a stronger connection to the discussion)

    This question asks us to consider a TEDx talk by Gad Saad, "The Consumer Instinct." It might be helpful to consider these additional short insights by Saad to better understand his ideas of the topic.

    We are social beings

    Consumers & Maladaptive Behaviours

    When we consider consumers and their maladaptive behaviors, we might raise the concern of "consumerism" as a by product of consumer instinct. "Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages the purchase of goods and services in ever-greater amounts."
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      Dec 2 2013: They deleted your original comment because I flagged it as spam. I already told you that continuing to post new threads in the root will result in me doing so. Since you are so eager to address this point that you simply ignored that warning, I will have to deal with this post.

      Firstly, I never said that there weren't maladaptive behaviors in consumption. However, I should note that regardless of the economic system used, many of these patterns of behavior would exist, including eating of unhealthy food and gambling.

      Your statement of "we might raise the concern of 'consumerism' as a byproduct of consumer instinct" is again meaningless. Of course consumerism is a byproduct of our instinct to consume. That's not really saying much.

      Neither of your two "points" really do anything to change the validity of my original statements regarding the view of capitalism from the perspective of evolutionary dynamics.
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    Dec 2 2013: If economies, and not just capitalism, are subjected to evolutionary forces then we must also consider an economy "after capitalism".

    Monbiot: " We will need to fight for "economic democracy."

    Guardian columnist George Monbiot argues that a world after capitalism is not a communist state but an advanced form of social democracy where the distribution of wealth is more stringently regulated. Animation by Yann Ponns, Alban Connell, Moet Suzuki and Mohamed Ali


    Some other After Capitalism:" essays can be found here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/series/after-capitalism
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    Dec 2 2013: "Pope Francis calls unfettered capitalism 'tyranny' and urges rich to share wealth"

    Pope Francis has attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny", urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.

    There are many kinds of 'capitalism.' This "unfettered" variety is the current concern. Some might argue that we need less regulation to the markets to make, but what we have now has create an unstable network of corporations that exploits the system.

    What is the comparison in evolution?
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      Dec 2 2013: I have already flagged your later root comments as spam. This one will not be however, since it was posted first. Firstly your argument is back to being based almost exclusively on quotes from other people. Second, you are using Pope Francis' opinion on "unfettered capitalism". His statement provides no support for why he has such an opinion, and in addition, Pope Francis is not an authority on the topic of economic theory and therefore is unfounded opinions are of no use in this discussion.

      In addition, we do not have "unfettered" capitalism. Take the United States for example. Roughly 40% of all economic production in the United States is government activity. When you take into account the amount of regulation as well as the government picking winners and losers in the market, it's not unreasonable to say that at least half of all economic activity in this nation is controlled by the government.

      The caparison in evolution has already been addressed: cultivation and domestication.
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        Dec 2 2013: re: "Pope Francis is not an authority on the topic of economic theory and therefore is unfounded opinions are of no use in this discussion."

        Well, this would lead one to ask if you are?

        Or whether any here that have commented are. I for one have stated up front that I am no expect, in fact far from it. Where was it stated that it was a prerequisite for joining the discussion?
        Or are you now saying that if the Pope cam and commented his comments would be permitted, but that they are to be discounted if reference is made to them?

        He also called on rich people to share their wealth. "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills," Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.

        "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?"
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          Dec 2 2013: No; I never claim to be an authority on the topic. That is why I am addressing the topic with a large amount of supporting commentary and information. One does not have to be an authority on a topic to discuss his or her opinion on the topic, but it is invalid to use the opinion of someone who is not an authority on a topic as supporting information. You can cite the same supporting information and argument as they use, but he used none. He merely made a subjective statement.
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        Dec 2 2013: re: The caparison in evolution has already been addressed: cultivation and domestication.

        That's it? No "evolving since "cultivation and domestication?
        I'll restate my question:
        "We have now has create an unstable network of corporations that exploits the system." Are there evolutionary causes?
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          Dec 2 2013: The cause of the unstable network of corporations which exploit the system is the government support of those corporations. You will not find such a corporation that is not receiving support from the government.

          I explain this pattern of behavior by the government, and the results of such patterns of behavior through evolutionary science. In the case of government, we see our more relictual desires to use force to accumulate resources, and in the case of the end result, we see the same type of situation among these networks of corporations as we do among the networks of plants and animals that humans have cultivated and domesticated.
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        Dec 2 2013: re: One does not have to be an authority on a topic to discuss his or her opinion on the topic,

        Make up my mine. Does the Pope get a say or not?

        An uninformed opinion is worth what you paid for it.
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          Dec 3 2013: Do you mean to say "make up your mind"? While every person has the right to his or her opinion, it does not mean that such opinion can be used to support an argument. The pope "has a say", but such opinion is not meaningful in terms of supporting your argument. If the pope mentioned authoritative sources along with said opinion, THAT would be useful in your argument.
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      Dec 1 2013: I do not see how anything I have said is hyperbole. List a specific example. If that's what you managed to "understand" from what I have written, then I am sorry to say that you are far off base.

      I am saying that capitalism is a cultural phenomenon that evolved alongside humans. I am looking at our psychological tendencies to accumulate resources in order to improve our own reproductive odds. I address two primary methodologies to accumulate such resources: force or voluntary transactions. Before the evolution of complex linguistic communication and the ability to create a large material inventory, force i.e. war was the primary method.

      Now we have the ability to create the large material inventory mentioned earlier, and can enter into voluntary transactions, thus increasing the reproductive odds of both parties involved. So essentially, I am saying that capitalism is a cultural advent which fits in line with human evolution and gives an alternative to forced exchange of resources.


      That is the first half of my argument. The second half of my argument is that capitalism itself is an evolving process. Evolutionary dynamics is not only applied to biological systems, but to many systems that show the same dynamic process of adapting in response to selective pressures. I then address the idea of viewing analogs within the biological process of evolution in order to gain a better understanding of how market dynamics within capitalism work.
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          Dec 2 2013: That is an extremely poor definition of hyporbole. A more accurate definition would be a statement that contains an exaggeration of a presumably true statement. None of what I said is hyperbole.

          Now, moving on to the topic itself, you seem to be excluding capitalism from evolutionary dynamics because it is not a living entity. First off, individuals do not evolve, systems evolve. Second, not every system that displays evolutionary dynamics is a living system. All that you need in order for a system to evolve is for it to be a dynamic system that changes in response to selective pressures.

          Given the concept of evolutionary dynamics above, we can see that culture evolves. It changes due to selective pressures acting on it. One component of culture that has evolved over time is capitalism.
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    Nov 30 2013: Response to the conclusion: "...rules that apply to the evolution of biological systems, should also apply to the evolution of market systems as well."

    Certainly there is a case to be made for the theory of evolutionary capitalism, and this leads me back to an earlier statement about Thorstein Veblen. Veblen is famous in the history of economic thought for combining a Darwinian evolutionary perspective with his new institutionalist approach to economic analysis. He combined sociology with economics in his masterpiece The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) where he argued that there was a fundamental split in society between those who make their way via exploitation and those who make their way via industry. These are the roots of evolutionary capitalism.
    And this returns us to the interview with Henry Giroux, since it can be argued that capitalism in its present form has evolved into a society between those who have exploit us, and seek to amass generational wealth and power, and those who are left to consume what we do not need to survive and reproduce.
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      Dec 1 2013: I'm sorry to say, but in general, you do not discuss. You mostly quote and reference other people, make generalizations, and list definitions, all without tying it in to how what you say relates to or supports your argument. In addition, you constantly reply by starting a new thread, rather than actually using the reply feature. Beyond that, you also split your posts up so much that you are essentially spamming the root thread.
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        Dec 1 2013: This is argumentum ad hominem, but I will respond the parts my my argument that you did address.
        Economics is not my field. I have approached is your question in a scientific manner; examining the argument and responding to the suppositions.

        Re: "would we extend this to all animals". There is no need to extend this to all animals. Not all animals have the same instincts,
        What? All animals appear to have the same instinct to reproduce. More importantly, Saad is the one that extended his argument to hummingbirds and polar bears.

        Let's add a level of depth to the conversation that will help to address the confusion here. Merle Donald puts forth the idea that humans brains have evolved "distributed cognitive-cultural networks," meaning that the cultural is what affords us the dynamics for the exchange of goods in the same way it afforded us agriculture and the domestication of animals.
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        Dec 1 2013: "We have plastic, highly conscious nervous systems, whose capacities allow us to adapt rapidly to the intricate cognitive challenges of our changing cognitive ecology. As we have moved from oral cultures, to primitive writing systems, to high-speed computers, the human brain itself has remained unchanged in its basic properties, but has been affected deeply in the way it deploys its resources. It develops in a rapidly changing cultural environment that is largely of its own making. The result is a species whose nature is unlike any other on this planet, and whose destination is ultimately unpredictable."

        He adds this important point:

        "The key question of human cognitive evolution might be rephrased in terms of this dichotomy: somewhere in human evolution the evolving mammalian nervous system must have acquired the mechanisms needed for symbol-based thought, while retaining its original knowledge base. To extend the metaphor, it is as if the evolving mammalian mind enriched its archaic neural net strategy by inventing various symbol-based devices for representing reality. This is presumably why the human brain does not suffer from the limitations of AI; it has kept the basic primate knowledge systems, while inventing more powerful ones to serve some non-symbolic representational agenda. But, how could the evolving primate nervous systems of early hominids have crossed the pre-symbolic gap? What are the necessary cognitive antecedents of symbolic invention? Cognition in humans is a collective product. The isolated brain does not come up with external symbols. Human brains collectively invent symbols in a creative and dynamic process. This raises another important question: how are symbols invented? "
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          Dec 2 2013: An ad hominem argument is an argument in which a personal attack on the person making the claim, or from which supporting information is obtained, is used as a reason for why the argument is invalid. All I am saying is that the method of discussion you are using has a lot of issues that makes it very difficult to discuss with you. For clarification, if I now said "you don't even understand the concept of ad hominem arguments, so obviously what you have said regarding capitalism and evolution are wrong", that would be an ad hominem.

          Again, one of the biggest problems is your use of block quotes. You just cut and paste huge quotes without really connecting them. This is not forming an argument. It is simply using someone else's.

          However, given that you have once again used a giant block quote, I will address it. While there is only some connection between your block quote and this current discussion, I mentioned that our culture: complex linguistic communication and large material inventories, are components that have evolved to allow capitalism to work and capitalism in term gives an alternative method of resource management to force. If anything, your block quote helps to support my claim, although weakly, as the block quote is more about cognitive abilities and their origins.

          I'm going to now back track and address your first point. You state that "[a]ll animals appear to have the same instinct to reproduce". This is blatantly false. All species have instincts for reproduction, but they are most definitely not the same instincts. Reproductive strategies vary greatly across species.
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        Dec 2 2013: re: This is blatantly false. All species have instincts for reproduction, but they are most definitely not the same instincts.
        Please provide something to support this statement.
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          Dec 2 2013: Surely. Many turtles leave a large number of eggs on the beach. They use quantity over quality as part of their reproductive strategies. There is no instinct to defend their young. In general mammals on the other hand spend much more energy in raising their young. Primates in general have very few offspring and a very large amount of time and energy is spent raising their young. Their defensive instincts are quite strong.
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    Nov 30 2013: Re: Capitalism, through the use of voluntary transactions,

    To this I will respond that behavior economics indicates that it is not that simply, "voluntary" or even conscious.
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    Nov 30 2013: re: "Conspicuous consumption, and the accumulation of a larger material inventory, gives us a way to increase our own reproductive odds."

    Saad makes the statement in his TEDxTalk, paraphrasing E O Wilson, "The genes hold consumer behavior on a leash."
    See: "consumer behavior"
    "Consumer behavior is influenced by internal conditions such as demographics, psychographics (lifestyle), personality, motivation, knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. Psychological factors include an individuals motivation, perception, attitude and belief, while personal factors include income level, personality, age, occupation and lifestyle."

    I will suggest here that we are wading into murky waters at this point.

    To my untrained ear Saad's argument, that our survival and reproductive instincts translates into a "consumer instinct" is very thin. Would we extend this to all animals? Since other animals survive and reproduce, can they be defined as consumers. The answer is "No" if you apply the definition of 'consumer behavior,' where elements of culture come into play.
    Saad however attempts to do just that, define all animals, hummingbirds to polar bears, as 'consumers', equating eating to the economic term of consumption. I see this as a bit of a marketing reach; selling us of his ideas.
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      Dec 1 2013: Here are some issues with your evaluation. First, our instinctual behavior and biological needs are modulated by our environment to create culture. This is Saad's whole premise, that our desire to maximize our reproductive odds displays itself through our consumer behavior. Humans can do this because we have the ability to create a large material inventory and engage in voluntary exchanges through complex linguistic communication.

      The second half of your argument is flawed on at least two levels. Firstly, you set up the question "would we extend this to all animals". There is no need to extend this to all animals. Not all animals have the same instincts, not to mention that humans are going to display their instincts differently because they can do more.

      The next part of that is also a huge problem. You posit the answer is no, but in the context of demanding consumer behavior is cultural. Since humans are the only animals that really display well defined culture, you are automatically setting up the answer to the question. Let me translate your question: "Since other animals survive to reproduce, can they be defined as consumers? No, not if you apply the definition of 'consumer behavior' as being uniquely human". Well duh!

      Here's where your second statement comes crashing down on another level. Many species show aspects of conspicuous consumption in order to attract mates. Whether it's the plumage on a peacock, which increases threat level and takes energy to produce, huge tests by certain birds and fish, which require a large amount of time and energy to gather resources, it is obvious to anyone who looks at the animal kingdom that conspicuous consumption exists in multiple cases.
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        Dec 2 2013: "Although the animal instinct in humans is to have children, the ability to think and project into the future have many people wishing to avoid having children: over-population, economic inability to support children, destruction of resources, interference with personal goals, etc.. In the past, the only way to avoid having children was to avoid having sex.

        One of the unique things about humans that makes their reproductive life unusual is that humans can think. The criteria for desire and selection are greatly complicated. People apply not only physical, but societal, cultural and economic criteria to desire and selection.

        Men date largely for sexual reasons, while women are more concerned to evaluate a man's prospects as a long term mate.

        I'll note here that no women have commented here on economic connections to reproduction.
        We might choice to explore how the education of woman effects the instincts to reproduce; the number of children a family has.
        • Dec 3 2013: Think has nothing to do with it. Attraction is a instictive response, you cannot, unfortunately consciously choose whom you are going to be attracted to.( that is why it is so obvious that homosexualism is a congenital predisposition). As a heterosexual male i am instinctively attracted to female that display ''biological advantages'', a.k.a, facial simmetry and a proportionate body.

          In the same way women are instinctively attracted to mens that can be providers.

          In fact this is an entertaining topic of discussion. Since now we are aware of theses evolutionary preferences, shouldnt we try to consciously avoid them since they are not longer relevant? What i mean is, we can agree that the two most important characteristic to be passed on are intelligence and health. Intelligence is not correlative with beauty or money. And since the sexual revolution, woman now can provide for themselves. If we continue in this course, uncousciously slaves to our instincts, we may be dooming future generations to something akin to idiocracy.
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    Nov 30 2013: Let's examine the argument again which states: " ...capitalism is a system that has co-evolved with humans to be the system that best fits our psychology and also best takes advantage of evolutionary dynamics."

    There are two components here; capitalism and evolution.
    Capitalism: " an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market"
    Some try to define it in this way:
    "Capitalism is a social system based on the principle of individual rights. Politically, it is the system of laissez-faire (freedom). Legally it is a system of objective laws (rule of law as opposed to rule of man). Economically, when such freedom is applied to the sphere of production its result is the free-market."

    The degree of competition, role of intervention and regulation, and scope of public ownership varies across different models of capitalism.[5] Economists, political economists, and historians have taken different perspectives in their analysis of capitalism and recognized various forms of it in practice. These include laissez-faire capitalism, welfare capitalism and state capitalism; each highlighting varying degrees of dependency on markets, public ownership, and inclusion of social policies. The extent to which different markets are free, as well as the rules defining private property, is a matter of politics and policy. Many states have what are termed capitalist mixed economies, referring to a mix between planned and market-driven elements.[6] A pejorative characterization, crony capitalism, refers to a state of affairs in which insider corruption, nepotism and cartels dominate the system. This is considered to be the normal state of mature capitalism in Marxian economics.
    In fact this argument is more accurately about evolutionary capitalism and evolutionary psychology
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      Dec 1 2013: This is not an argument. It is a list of definitions, opinions by others, and generalities sitting in the ether.
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        Dec 2 2013: You have provide a discussion that requires essay like responses. For this reason my reply is in 3 comments.
        Where have you defined capitalism?
        I supplied two, and a statement that addresses models of capitalism: "The degree of competition, role of intervention and regulation, and scope of public ownership varies across different models of capitalism."
        What model of capitalism are you addressing?
        "...each highlighting varying degrees of dependency on markets, public ownership, and inclusion of social policies.

        I am learning that you have posed a rather insignificant question that you are eagerly defending.
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          Dec 2 2013: Your "discussion" is not a discussion at all, but rather a string of block quotes loosely, if at all, tied together. It borders on plagiarism.

          "What model of capitalism are you addressing?" The basis is on free market capitalism. It makes sense to start with the simplest form of capitalism before confounding it in regards to outside manipulation, although I do address this as well.
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    Nov 29 2013: I will admit that economic is not may field, but I have dig into it a bit. I will add these two quotes to help understand the current system

    Thorstein "Veblen saw that every culture is materially-based and dependent on tools and skills to support the "life process", while at the same time, every culture appeared to have a stratified structure of status ("invidious distinctions") that ran entirely contrary to the imperatives of the "instrumental" (read: "technological") aspects of group life. The "ceremonial" was related to the past, and conformed to and supported the tribal legends; "instrumental" was oriented toward the technological imperative to judge value by the ability to control future consequences. The "Veblenian dichotomy" was a specialized variant of the "instrumental theory of value" due to John Dewey, with whom Veblen was to make contact briefly at the University of Chicago."

    "Another argument is that humans have a poor intuitive grasp of the economics of the current environment which is very different from the ancestral environment. The ancestral environment likely had relatively little trade, division of labor, and capital goods. Technological change was very slow, wealth differences were much smaller, and possession of many available resources were likely zero-sum games where large inequalities were caused by various forms of exploitation."

    If capitalism has adapted look at China with its one party system. http://www.ted.com/talks/eric_x_li_a_tale_of_two_political_systems.html
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      Nov 30 2013: The first quote doesn't really do all that much regarding discussion. As it stands, it is simply a quote sitting in the ether. It's also incorrect on certain accounts, such as positing that stratified structure of status exists everywhere. It is not a cultural universal.

      Your second paragraph actually helps to support part of my argument. Our ancestral environment existed of small weakly connected bands of people. Kin altruism and warfare (force) were the primary methods of resource exchange. They worked because of the structure of society at the time. However, we now have huge collections of individuals and kin altruism does not extend so far. War (force from government) still exits, and that has killed so many.

      However, with complex language and an ability to create a large material inventory, our culture was able to evolve a process by which we could manage resources, even within such large groups, without the use of warfare. That process is capitalism

      Also, why do we need such an intuitive grasp of the system? Evolution doesn't require that those on which evolution is acting have knowledge of the process. Do you think chimps understand laws of supply and demand? Probably not, and yet, we still see those basic laws of economics in chimp grooming practices and sexual practices.

      As for China, it weakened government control of the economic system and that is why it is performing better. However, there is also a factor regarding China that may cause it to collapse in the near future: population distribution. It's also questionable how accurate China's reports are. In addition, a very large component of China's economic "prosperity" comes from a high amount of exports using artificially cheap labor.
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    Nov 29 2013: Re: "Capitalism is, in a way, an alternative to democracy"

    How does capitalism provide for a "commons?"
    "Commons refers to the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately."
    In the interview of Henry Giroux by Bill Moyers, Giroux makes the case that our current form of capitalism has altered society.
    There is no "free market" when 147 corporations control the global economy.
    A University of Zurich study 'proves' that a small group of companies - mainly banks - wields huge power over the global economy.
    The study is the first to look at all 43,060 transnational corporations and the web of ownership between them - and created a 'map' of 1,318 companies at the heart of the global economy.
    The study found that 147 companies formed a 'super entity' within this, controlling 40 per cent of its wealth. All own part or all of one another. Most are banks - the top 20 includes Barclays and Goldman Sachs. But the close connections mean that the network could be vulnerable to collapse.

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2051008/Does-super-corporation-run-global-economy.html#ixzz2m2hEfiO4

    "When Corporations Rule the World" is an anti-globalization book by David Korten. Korten examines the evolution of corporations in the United States and argues that "corporate libertarians" have 'twisted' the ideas of Adam Smith's view of the role of private companies."
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      Nov 29 2013: It doesn't provide for the "commons". Not every system of resource management bothers with "commons" and quite frankly human nature isn't really geared towards a robust commons. Instead, capitalism manages the total flow of resources through the population by using a system of voluntary transactions.

      "In the interview of Henry Giroux by Bill Moyers, Giroux makes the case that our current form of capitalism has altered society. There is no "free market" when 147 corporations control the global economy."

      Did you even read what I typed? I said that the current form of capitalism is not the natural form it should take. The problem is that constantly government manipulation of the market has resulted in a small collection of entities controlling the majority of the resources.

      Going back to my original point of looking at capitalism from the view of evolutionary science and looking at markets as ecosystems, we can think of government manipulation of the system much in the same way as cultivation and domestication, and see that it entails the majority of the same negatives in terms of their analogs in the market.

      Don't believe me? You mention banks like Goldman Sachs. Well, guess what would have happened if the United States hadn't spent trillions propping up so called "too big to fail" business entities. The web of control of which you speak would have collapsed!

      Basically, this entire scenario does indeed fit in line with evolutionary theory, whether in the case of human nature regarding an innate desire to maximize reproductive odds, the ability of businesses to evolve to new selective pressures in markets, or the corruption of the market by government as analogous to human meddling in cultivation and domestication.
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        Nov 29 2013: The another conversation you wrote, "Evolution does not only occur in biological systems. Many systems evolve over time, and thus we can analyze these systems using the same or similar methodology to biological systems".

        While I can appreciate the ideal of capitalism in theoryI think you are artificially isolating parts of dynamic stems here. You have to address the complexity of the corporate network and how it "self organized" despite attempts to regulate it. This is what capitalism has evolved into because of the economic interconnectedness to other systems.
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          Nov 29 2013: I actually have taken that into account. Partially because evolutionary theory takes into account the fact that evolution is the end product of multiple systems interacting with one another. It even takes into account the case of human intervention through cultivation and agriculture.

          As for corporate networks, are you saying that networks within the "natural" world don't exist? This is silly. Networks exist both within a single species and between species. That's not a problem. The problem is when humans modify the dynamics of the evolutionary process.

          Many networks do indeed self organize, but many more have been created due to government intervention. The banking industry, the tobacco and liquor industries, and many more are perfect examples of this.
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      Nov 29 2013: It is but slowly dawning on us that most economic activities have ecological/environmental consequences that are almost invisible to us. Market economy is all about choices and one needs to be properly informed to make the choice. Until about a few years ago, none so much cared about buying bottled water hardly knowing that that ordinary plastic bottle takes about a 1000 years to degrade and go back to nature. The damage it does to important ecological services has a price and that was never factored in the market price of the bottled water. Had it been so, bottled water industry would never had been the third largest revenue earner in the world. By the time people like you and me got the hint of it, we already have great Atlantic swatch, a continent sized floating island consisting of plastic bottles and caps.
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    Nov 24 2013: Maybe. But it is completely devoid of ecological or environmental wisdom up till now. Capitalism, in its standard classical model, hardly makes sense based on those sciences.
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      Nov 24 2013: Why? I already gave a fair amount of background as to why it makes sense precisely because of those sciences.

      1. Humans are conspicuous consumers who try to maximize their own reproductive odds, or those of people closely related.

      2. Capitalism is a system that works with this idea. It allows resources to be managed while still maximizing reproductive odds.

      3. Thinking of businesses as living organisms existing in an ecosystem (the market) allows us to use evolutionary dynamics to explain why businesses act the way that they do. In the same way that organisms maximize their own reproductive odds, businesses essentially do the same.

      4. Businesses evolve based on selective pressures in the market. Business models are not stagnant, but rather are constantly changing.
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        Nov 24 2013: Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins in their 1999 book named Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution” said, (the traditional ‘Industrial’ Capitalism) “does not fully conform to its own accounting principles. It liquidates its capital and calls it income. It neglects to assign any value to the largest stocks of capital it employs- the natural resources and living systems, as well as the social and cultural systems that are the basis of human capital.” They also asked fundamental questions like: What would our economy look like if it fully valued all forms of capital? What if our economy were organized not around the abstractions of neoclassical economics and accountancy but around the biological realities of nature? What if Generally Accepted Accounting Practice booked natural and human capital not as a free amenity in inexhaustible supply but as a finite and integrally valuable factor of production? What if in the absence of a rigorous way to practice such accounting, companies started to act as if such principles were in force?

        Please check also the work of New Economics Foundation.

        For a detailed perspective you may be interested to read my article that was published in the Business Insider.
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          Nov 24 2013: "What if Generally Accepted Accounting Practice booked natural and human capital not as a free amenity in inexhaustible supply but as a finite and integrally valuable factor of production?"

          It does. Why do you think that when accessibility to either of those forms of capital changes, so do the "prices" associated with them? Businesses also evolve based on changes in availability of forms of capital. Why? Because at the core, you have the driving force of maximizing profit. Just as maximizing reproductive odds drives evolution forward, so does maximizing profit in business models.
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        Nov 24 2013: It hardly does. The price changes are due to distribution and accessibility constraints, which technology can reduce. It does not address the issue of properly valuing natural and human resources of production intrinsically.
        The neoclassical economics, of which Capitalism is an important part has no known mechanism of valuing natural and human resources and factoring in those in price mechanisms. You may find this talk by Pavan Sukhdev interesting in this context.
        or this
        Evolutionary dynamics singularly does not work along the principle of maximizing reproductive odds, it also works along he lines of consolidating the odds in a sustainable manner. Capitalist business models, most often, do not do that consolidation. Rather there are plenty examples that these models in order to maximize profit dangerously speculate and become runaway. You may consider sub prime lending as an example.
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          Nov 24 2013: You are making the assumption that a conscious evaluation needs to be made. This is a mistake. Do organisms in nature have knowledge of costs and benefits? No. The process of evolution is simply a stochastic process driven by selective pressures.

          You're right that in nature the process is sustainable, and this is true in the market as well. That is, as long as there are no outside factors influencing the process. You mention the sub prime lending crisis as an example, but this example does not fit in with natural market dynamics. The government removed the natural selective pressures in place when they guaranteed that banks could lend without risk. They also removed the natural selective forces by monopolizing currency production. The Federal Reserve constantly injects currency into the banking industry.

          Essentially, the example of sub prime lending would most accurately relate to changes in evolutionary dynamics caused by domestication attempts. Indeed, it is not unreasonable to look at regulations and subsidization as analogs to domestication attempts.
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          Nov 29 2013: Did you like that interview? I am hopeful. The idea of promoting debate among young people is promising, and as Giroux indicates, well received.
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        Nov 28 2013: "The biggest lie of all is that democracy is capitalism."

        Please make the time to listen to this interview.

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          Nov 29 2013: Theodore,
          I feel sad and frustrated. My country is no better.
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          Nov 29 2013: Of course I liked the interview. But people like Giroux are so rare. I sometimes have this sinking feeling that we are losing this kind of sane yet compassionate voice. I shall retire with a decent pension in 8 years from now and I am planning and preparing for full time social/community work. Everyday, I face questions why I am not opting for vacations and golf. I can feel the chuckle of incredulity on my back on a daily basis.
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          Nov 29 2013: You are correct that capitalism is not democracy. Capitalism is, in a way, an alternative to democracy. Instead of managing resources through a voting process, you manage resources through a system of reciprocal transactions.

          The form of capitalism, however, that you mention, is not capitalism in its natural state. Capitalism does not destroy its own environment, at least not in the long term. There may be short term damage due to modification of environment, just like a beaver will build a damn, but the process itself is not destructive overall.
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    Nov 24 2013: I think strong points can be made for evolution in thought and economic systems stemming from the ideas of groups. Capitalism works best with sound reason and moral judgement
  • Nov 21 2013: This is a response to a thread under my previous post that ended up here instead.

    The movement from sea to land in the evolutionary process wasn't a sudden change. It occurred gradually over many generations.

    I never said That evolution actually led to the best fitting adaptation; you implied in your opening comments that that is what has happened in the development of capitalism.

    As for goose bumps, they are a vestigial trait. They are a leftover from when we had more fur than we have now and they had a purpose in, ironically, helping us to stay warmer. Since the basic structure of our hair has not yet evolved beyond that function, the goose bumps remain. Who knows whether the trait will have enough importance to evolve away at sometime in the distant future, but, as I said, evolutionary change is slow.

    I have no problem with using evolution as an analogy to help understand capitalism or any other economic system, but I just don't agree that it is a good fit for anything more than that.
  • Nov 20 2013: So far, I see capitalism as having the most potential. It seems to me that just about any governing system would suffice as far as survival goes as long as it included morality. It doesn't matter which governing system you choose, when you try to make the definition of good and bad dynamic instead of static, it's finished.