Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Is This Another Designed Utopian Society?

Unfortunately, “designed” social systems have a poor record of improving on what their authors consider to be failed social systems, which have arisen without design or intention. In new book, Yochai Benkler makes the case for “prosocial” systems design:

The Penguin and the Leviathan: The Triumph of Cooperation Over Self-Interest (Crown Publishing Group, August 2011),” by Harvard Law Professor Yochai Benkler.
HERE

“This “old model” harks back to 1652, when philosopher Thomas Hobbes published “Leviathan,” arguing for rule by absolute sovereignty. Hobbes unleashed a monster, the “iconic image of a controlling state,” says Benkler, which ever since has cast its shadow over social contracts, spreading the dire message that “if left to our own devices, we’ll be at each other’s throats.” Overlaying this Hobbesian model of state control is the market-oriented Invisible Hand metaphor, introduced by economist Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations” (1776), which assumes that “by each pursuing self-interest, we make things better for all of us,” not because we care for one another but because it is mutually advantageous.”

The above article, “Escaping the Leviathan’s Shadow,” by Julia Collins, first appeared in the Summer 2011 Harvard Law Bulletin. Benkler’s book was also recently reviewed in The Atlantic, "Can the Internet Bring the Beginning of the End of Selfishness?,” by Walter Frick,

Can the Internet Bring the Beginning of the End of Selfishness?, where

Walter Frick reviews Yochai Benkler HERE

After tracing macroeconomic history from pre-nineteenth century European monarchies through the industrial revolution, the New Deal, and the Washington Consensus, Benkler writes, "If neither the command-control systems dictated by the Leviathan nor the Invisible Hand of the free market can effectively govern society, where shall we turn? Can the Penguin deliver us more robust, working social and economic systems that break us out of this vicious cycle? I believe that he can."

Comment
Long, long before Thomas Hobbes introduced ideas about the “Leviathan” state in the 17th century, human social systems had experienced their own millennia-lasting “iconic images of a controlling states”. Professor Yochai Benkler should know about the Roman Republic and Empire (much law theory started way back), as well as the High Egyptian Nile Delta centuries, Babylon, and Imperial China. They did not need to await Hobbes’ endeavours to apply their own versions of tyranny.

Yochai Benkler’s “market-oriented Invisible Hand metaphor, introduced by economist Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations” (1776), which assumes that “by each pursuing self-interest, we make things better for all of us,” not because we care for one another but because it is mutually advantageous” is but a parody on Adam Smith, owing much to modern false attributions of his ideas, and, most importantly, an invented version of his use of the “invisible hand” metaphor.

There is no “invisible hand of the market” attributable to Adam Smith. It is a myth that owes more to the Cold War years when US academe confronted the Soviet challenge (an example of another “iconic image of a controlling state”) with its human ‘designed’ social system and with very inhuman consequences for those living within it.

Apart from these observations, I am always very interested in the evolution of co-operation as human behaviour, which Adam Smith credited to the acquisition of the faculties of ‘reason’ and ‘speech’ (Wealth Of Nations, chapter 2). This part of Yochai Benkler’s book might be interesting. If my book budget permits I might buy a copy and see what he says. But if it is merely a utopian blueprint for a designed society, I would prefer to give it a miss.

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