Friday, November 7, 2008

Why a free market society wiil never work.

And neither will a communist one.

How many people do you know? And I'm not talking about the number of friends on facebook, how many people do you know? How many people to you care about? How many people could ask you for a favour? How many people could you just stop and chat with? How many people wellbeing are you concerned about? Think about it for a moment. Got a number? Good. Write it down.
Now for a tangent.
Monkeys and apes live in social groups (for the most part), and different species have differently sized communities. Monkeys and apes also have neocortexes (new brank), and if you chop up enough monkey brains and look at enough monkeys in the wild, you find that the size of the social group is a direct function of neocortex size. A Liverpudlian called Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar came to realise all this and being then decided to take a look at the human neocortex. He then worked out that the average ''number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained'' is about 150. This is Dunbars number.
Now look at your number. How close were you? Does the whole thing make sense? If not, think about how many people are on your course. Now think about how cohesive it is. Still not convinced? Try and think of a group of more than 150 people and think about how well it stays together. When Dunbar looked at 21 hunter gather villages he found that the average population size was 148.4. When psychologist Dennis Fox studied the tragedy of the commons he concluded that ''the upper limit for a simple, self-contained, sustaining, well-functioning commons may be as low as 10 people''. The Roman army considered 150 to be the maximum size of a fighting unit. Wilbert Gore (inventor of Gore-Tex) adamantly stated that a company plant should never have more than 150 people working there because ''we found again and again that things get clumsy at a hundred and fifty''. 150 is the magic number.

Living free, smiling wide

''But'' you interject, ''what the hell does any of this matter?'' It matters because we live in and function in groups of much larger than 150 and the only way that we can do that is by creating rules and laws. 150 people can live in harmonious, libertarian or socialist, anarchy, any more than that and you need structure.
The society we live in is a patchwork quilt of interconnected groups of 150. To make the whole shebang work we need governance and rights and the like keeping a sense of uniformity, to make sure we treat others like we want to be treated. So we set up laws and rules as we all lived in a Dunbar Group (150 people) and then apply them to everyone, so that we act to strangers as if they're people we empathize with.
The problem is, it doesn't work. Dunbar's number is why we don't feel bad stealing from corporations but why we don't steal from our friends. It's why people spend more on pets than charities. It's why we find it hard to worry about ''the planet'' or ''the rainforest'' in the same way we worry about our parents. Simply pretending that people can act towards strangers in the same way that they act towards their Dunbar Group is crazy.
When we construct an economic system, it doesn't make biological sense. Humans aren't naturally communist or capitalist: we're all anarchists at heart. If you take a group of 150 people and let them form their own nation, it looks nothing like the sort of word we live in. There aren't any formal titles. Property balances neatly with sharing. Hierarchies form based on personality and competence. Crime is dealt with by the people. Money usually becomes totally irrelevant. When humans exist in a natural state, life is much simpler.
Every economic principle is manufactured. None are ''right'' - they're just tools to try and make our ''supersocieties'' more like the mini ones we're supposed to live in. The free market world cannot exist. Communist states don't work. What we always end up using is some kind of mixture of ideas. The combination of free markets and government control is the only way to simulate the social groups that we used to live in, and so it will thrive. We need to balance freedom and order.
So the next time someone tries to sell you some economic ideology, take it with a cup of salt.