Saturday, July 29, 2017

Michael Muthukrishna — Bribery, Cooperation, and the Evolution of Prosocial Institutions

The marvel of human evolution was not speech or tool use, as is ordinarily believed, since other animals have developed such skills albeit at a much more limited scale.

The single most important evolutionary trait that sets humans apart from other animals is the ability to scale potential to the species level. Other animals are stuck at the level of in-group cooperation but inter-group competition. 

Conversely, humans have become aware of themselves at the societal and  species levels, which enables them to universalize thought, speech and action and to extend this capability to those outside the group.

There are tradeoffs involved, however. As Marx observed, this ability to scale up and out comes at a cost, since the intimate level of the interpersonal is lost with scale. Persons become individuals, and conventional economics treats individuals as atoms comparable to physics. When the interpersonal degrades, then anonymity becomes a value.

Where custom and personal trust are no longer effectively operative, law is required as an institution to replace their functions. This comes at the risk of alienation as class structure develops and becomes dominant. 

Moreover, humans do not fully transcend their biological heritage and in-group cooperation and out-group competition persists, leading to behavior that is anti-social in the wider sense, but perfectly rational from the point of view of evolutionary background.

This must be recognized and addressed.
When a leader gives his daughter a government contract, it’s nepotism. But it’s also cooperation at the level of the family, well explained by inclusive fitness [2], undermining cooperation at the level of the state. When a manager gives her friend a job, it’s cronyism. But it’s also cooperation at the level of friends, well explained by reciprocal altruism [3], undermining the meritocracy. Bribery is a cooperative act between two people, and so on. It’s no surprise that family-oriented cultures like India and China are also high on corruption, particularly nepotism. Even in the Western world, it’s no surprise that Australia, a country of mates, might be susceptible to cronyism. Or that breaking down kin networks predicts lower corruption and more successful democracies (Akbari, Bahrami-Rad & Kimbrough, 2017; Schulz, 2017). Part of the problem is that these smaller scales of cooperation are easier to sustain and explain than the kind of large-scale anonymous cooperation that we in the Western world have grown accustomed to...
Good read.

Bribery, Cooperation, and the Evolution of Prosocial Institutions
Michael Muthukrishna | Assistant Professor of Economic Psychology at the London School of Economics. Research Associate of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, Affiliate of the Yale Applied Cooperation Team, Affiliate of the Developmental Economics Group at STICERD, and Technical Director of The Database of Religious History

See also

How the Postal System and the Printing Press Transformed European Markets
Prateek Raj is a PhD Candidate in Strategy and Entrepreneurship at University College London and a Research Associate at the Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State at University of Chicago Booth School of Business

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the thing that distinguishes us from the animals be ego ...?

Which for me is the light of the moon; because the Sun is.