Saturday, March 3, 2018

David Sloan Wilson — How to Construct a New Invisible Hand: A Conversation with Peter Barnes

In a previous essay, I announced a new concept of the invisible hand to replace the old and erroneous idea that the pursuit of self-interest robustly benefits the common good. The new version is based on examples of the invisible hand that exist in nature, such as cells that benefit multi-cellular organisms and social insects that benefit their colonies. These lower-level units don’t have the welfare of the higher-level units in mind. They don’t even have minds in the human sense of the word. Instead, they exhibit behaviors that have been winnowed by higher-level selection to benefit the common good. Higher-level selection is the invisible hand.
Absorbing this fact leads to a robust conclusion about the design of our own societies. We must learn to function in two capacities: 1) As designers of social and economic systems; and 2) as participants in the systems that we design. As participants, we need not have the welfare of the whole system in mind, in classic invisible hand fashion. But as design­ers, we must. The invisible hand must be constructed, which would be a contra­diction of terms according to the old concept.
Yet, this does not mean that the invisible hand must be constructed by centralized plan­ning, the main alternative to laissez faire economic policies that is typically imagined. Instead, the design process needs to be evolutionary, iterative, and collaborative, resulting in mechanisms that work like the invisible hand, even though they never could have arisen on their own. This constitutes a middle path between laissez faire and centralized planning that could be a breakthrough in solving the problems of our age....
How to Construct a New Invisible Hand: A Conversation with Peter Barnes
David Sloan Wilson | SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University and Arne Næss Chair in Global Justice and the Environment at the University of Oslo

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