IT’S COOPERATION, STUPID. Why Richard Dawkins, Thomas Hobbes and Milton Friedman got it wrong
Charles Leadbeater, March 2012
« …we should jettison the assumption, hardened by layers of economic theory, sociobiology and urban myth,that selfishness is our default mode. It turns out we are not as selfish as we first thought.
The case for the market, which goes back at least to Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, people’s selfinterest should be harnessed to produce the public good of higher productivity and greater choice.
Self-interest also underpins the case for government that goes back at least to Thomas Hobbes, who warned in The Leviathan that without government to enforce rules society would degenerate into a chaotic war of all against all. The state and the market lead to quite different solutions to social problems but they start from the same place: we are born selfish. In the hands of laissez-faire neoliberals, the assumption of selfishness became the
lens through which almost all public policy had to be seen.
Their message was that the best way to get things done is to appeal to our self-interest with offers and incentives, financial and material, that can be calculated and weighed.
What if most of us, most of the time, want to be cooperative because a uniquely sophisticated tendency towards reciprocity has been written into who we are through a powerful combination of evolution and culture? What if through most of human history, stretching hundreds of thousands of years, the state of our nature was not a Hobbesian war of ‘all against all’
but a daily routine of cooperative hunting, gathering, food preparation, child-rearing and protection? »
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