Can We Regulate Powerful Interests Well Enough to Ensure a Good Future?


The fittest generally survive and thrive, and evolution progresses as some members of a species become better at surviving.  In a social species like ours, in which individuals are interdependent, survival and progress result from the fittest and more advanced making things better for many.  When those who are advancing sub-optimize the overall outcome, however, making life better for themselves by making it worse for others, they are no longer a positive force for progress and the preservation of the species.  We have governments, laws, and regulations to prevent this scenario, whether it is the individual or a large group of individuals – an organization – who steals from or otherwise harms other members of the species.  Organizations have reached huge power compared with individuals in the past few millenia, however.  Can their power be regulated so they don’t sub-optimize the good of all?

Selfishness and hoarding behaviors have to be looked at for their net benefits. A person or organization may acquire and use great wealth, for example, in an ethical way that actually “lifts the boats” of others as well, or they may do so in a way that disadvantages or harms part or all of the rest of the population, producing a negative net value to what they have done.  The assessment of this net value is a very difficult problem when the one doing the assessment has specific personal or group interests that sway the assessment or the value judgments placed on the results.  Still, there are very clear examples of greedy individuals and organizations sub-optimizing the good of all for short term gain, and this is a problem we each face daily whether we understand or acknowledge it or not.

The behaviors of large groups, and how such behaviors are regulated, may define the quality of life and even survival for our descendants. Given the potential global impact of human population, and the resources and power controlled by a small percentage of that population, how we survive the next century as a species may depend heavily on how we regulate the power of those relatively few interests even more than how they voluntarily behave.

Large groups may not have incentives to behave in ways that serve the planet well. Many large groups, however, may be caught in a collective groupthink around the dedication to accumulating power and wealth.  Like some huge Stanley Milgram experiment they may give each other directions that they can then obey with little or no questioning, and carry out actions that will not only harm others but compromise the future quality of life and even survival for the species.  Can we as a species regulate and limit bad behaviors to provide a better future for all?  This is a challenging question that will inevitably be answered, hopefully with better results than we may foresee today.

As always I appreciate your comments — Tim

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