Do we chisel down or scale down?

After the Second World War (1945), there ought to have been nothing more straightforward than to roll out the industrial revolution across the rest of the world. We knew the products that people in the advanced countries enjoyed, we knew the technologies to make them, and we had the financial intermediaries able to recycle the money from savings into investment. Above all else, there was a huge and growing world population which meant that those who became rich in the decades after the war could have become many times richer still.

But it didn’t work out that way. Had economic development been a matter of straightforward selfishness on the part of humans — as economists imagine us to be in their text books — then no doubt the roll-out would have continued. But, as we are now informed by the human sciences — and the evolutionary biologists in particular — and which a handful or so economists are just beginning to acknowledge — human nature is a great deal more complex than economics can ever be.

It turns out that we are full of proclivities which used to be called instincts until about 50 years ago when biologists had their heads chopped off by the politically correct. And many of these ‘proclivities’ are entirely at odds with one another, each of them evolving for specific occasions at different times. All that needs to be said about them is that they worked well enough when we lived in small groups for millions of years, but don’t work so well in the organisations of today.

In other words, our instincts don’t scale up. The question to be asked, therefore, is whether we set about root and branch re-engineering of our genes or learn how to scale down our gargantuan organisations into smaller more workable social structures.

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