In today’s Guardian newspaper, the following question is put: “Where now are the earthly paradises from which an idealist can take hope?”
What geneticists are proving — as much as any scientific statement is ever proved — is that man is much too much a mixture of instincts that have been acquired for survival purposes in a variety of evolutionary backgrounds. And, as some of our genes are identical with those of the earliest bacterium and go back 3.5 billion years, many different environments have left their traces in our DNA.
These environments have been so different that for many instincts there are often almost polar opposites — such as selfishness or altruism, fight or flight, hierarchical exploitation or socialisation, fear or euphoria, individualism or mass credulity, deviousness or fairness, deference to leadership or opposition, etc. Sometimes, both of a ‘pair’ can be elicited simultaneously within a population when a new situation has echoes of different periods of the past.
Modern institutions and economic systems are as much the result of plunder as they are of voluntary trade. We are not a largely market society as most economists imagine. To answer the question: Nowhere.
This isn’t to say that we are without hope. For one thing, economists could look internally at what biologists are saying about our instincts. For another, economists could look externally at what physicists are saying about the energy characteristics of our economic systems — that the world economy has self-determination beyond anything that governments may wish for.