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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Invisible Hand and Group Size

Over at PJ Media's The Belmont Club, guest poster Leo Linbeck writes some insightful remarks about cooperation and competition:
An underappreciated story of the Progressive Movement and its progeny (The Fair Deal, The New Deal, The Great Society, The New New Deal, and so on) is its emphasis on collaboration over competition. FDR put it this way:
Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.
This has it exactly backwards. It is cooperation that is useful to a certain point, and then we must rely on competition.
Cooperation arises from trust. Robert Axelrod, in his 1984 book The Evolution of Cooperation, used game theory to describe the way in which cooperative behavior arises from competitive game structures:
For cooperation to emerge, the interaction must extend over an indefinite (or at least an unknown) number of moves…
For cooperation to prove stable, the future must have a sufficiently large shadow. This means that the importance of the next encounter between the same two individuals must be great enough to make defection an unprofitable strategy…
In order for cooperation to get started in the first place, one more condition is required. The problem is that in a world of unconditional defection, a single individual who offers cooperation cannot prosper unless some others are around who will reciprocate. On the other hand, cooperation can emerge from small clusters of discriminating individuals as long as these individuals have even a small proportion of their interactions with each other.
“Indefinite number of moves,” “shadow of the future,” “small cluster of discriminating individuals” – these are characteristics that break down as the size of a human grouping grows. With your neighbors, you’re likely to interact with them repeatedly in the future, the future interactions are likely to be important, and there aren’t that many of them. But as the scale grows, these conditions erode, and with them the possibility of cooperation.
That’s when competition kicks in. The fact is that human beings compete in groups; there is a significant advantage to be gained by having multiple skill sets and personalities united in a common effort. (Engineers and salespeople are famously different, but rely heavily upon one another for their livelihood.) There is cooperation within these groups, but competition between them.
Smith's "Invisible Hand" is required precisely when actual hands start to become invisible due to the size of the group.


erp said...

Cooperation requires that one of the equal animals be dominant and make the decisions even though the fiction may be that decisions can be made by consensus of the barnyard animals.

Orwell made this point so abundantly clear, that even lefties should be able to see it.

Competition, on the other hand, allows for a single individual to operate alone or with a group of like minded associates.

Bret said...

Yes, each group can then compete for cooperative resources.

Susan's Husband said...


The collectivists are completely aware of that, they know for a fact that they'll be the deciders.


I would note the natural world follows the same pattern - cooperating groups of cells (organisms) which compete between groups. But strangely the tranzis who are so taken with materialism never see to draw lessons from the actual material world.

Bret said...

That's because they're all Creationists at heart.

erp said...

Bret, what are cooperative resources?

SH, merely re-stating the obvious.

Bret said...

People who are willing to be cooperative.

erp said...


No sarcasm. I really don't get it. Pls be a little more specific.

Bret said...

An employee is what I'd call a cooperative resource. You have a bunch of companies competing, not only with each other's products, but for employees as well. However, once an employee is hired by a given company he cooperates with the rest of the company. Thus the employee is a cooperative resource - a resource that when obtained becomes cooperative. Perhaps a poor choice of words on my part.

erp said...

Thanks Bret.

Since I've been retired for 25 years, I'm not familiar with a lot of "new" terminology and I can't say I like referring to people as resources.

It's just another semantical ploy to advance the narrative that we're all merely inter-changeable cogs in the wheel of socialism or collectivism if you prefer that term.

What does anyone think of Christie and Jeb Bush, among others, coming out of the closet and kissing up to the left?

Bret said...

That was "Bret" terminology, not "new" terminology and given how confusing you found it, also "poor" terminology. :-)