The Common Good: a semi-rational emergent property of complex collective interaction between diverse actors – Part II

The common good invariably requires diversification, manifest as random fluctuations within the biological phase space from which emerge divisions of labour, and thus necessarily, inequalities among individuals comprising a social collective. Entropic forcing drives increases of the common good, via increased diversity, to an apparent limit.

Explorations are made of philosophical (Part I) and empirical (Part II) studies in politics, biology, and economics.

Cooperation via collective divisions of labour is a necessary prerequisite to biological metabolism and reproduction. A collective comprising diverse actors is thus assumed fundamental to the planetary biome. The preponderance of benefit (here designated ‘the common good’) that emerges for actors (individuals and groups), is mediated by Woesean collective cooperation, defined as “a diverse community of cells(note A) surviving and evolving as a biological unit.”(1)
– see Part I for (note A) and reference (1).

“Diversity is an asset with which to confront uncertainty.”
– Groschl, 2013

Part II: Empirical observations and meta-analyses

Diversified-specialized: a modern economical perspective
The concept of diversified specialization is introduced and discussed in some detail by Farhauer & Kröl (2012), in an empirical study of German kreisfreie städte (cities with county status).(28) The study speaks of Marshall-Arrow-Romer (MAR) externalities, and of Jacobs externalities; both are forms of knowledge spillover. The former generating advantages due to specialization in the local environment, the latter generating advantages due to diversification in the local environment.

A diversified sector structure fosters cross-sectoral (‘Jacobs’) spillovers and lessens the impact of sector-specific demand shocks upon the regional economy. However, cities specializing in several sectors profit from both, MAR and Jacobs knowledge spillovers. Diversified-specialised cities combine the benefits of higher productivity due to specialization, with the advantages of a diversified structure, such as cross-fertilization among differing sectors, thus exhibiting higher growth rates than either specialized or diversified cities.

Specialization is risky. When a highly specialized local economy is exposed to a negative demand shock, local unemployment tends to increase dramatically, resulting in a local economic recession, or possibly even leading in an economic, and eventually cultural collapse of the entire region. In an extreme case the industry sector begins to wholly collapse, causing a widespread cascading shockwave.(29)

Sector-specific demand shocks are better absorbed by a diversified economy. It is reasonable to assume that a diversified economic environment, or indeed the diversified skill-set of an individual, generally allows for greater stability; or biologically speaking, greater fitness via increased adaptive capacity. The viability of a culture surely is in the common interest of all individuals comprising it, whether they are directly or indirectly integrated into the local culture (economy and/or ecology). Thus economic and cultural stability (viability) may reasonably be viewed as a common good.

Farhauer & Kröl report that diversified cities are generally larger, more crowded and chaotic, rendering a business environment that is less efficient and more costly than that found in a specialized city. Interestingly then, diversification requires more space than specialization, not simply geographically but also potentially; a larger realm of possibility (a larger phase space) defines diversified actors.

“Smaller cities tend to be specialised and, as a result, more productive which indicates a negative influence of city size on productivity. However, in large cities inputs can be utilised more efficiently – i.e. put to the best possible use – by means of which productivity is higher.”
– Farhauer & Kröl, 2012

Hitting squarely the predictions rendered by the hypothesis upon which the current thesis rests(note F), the diversified-specialized theory appears to be inconclusive and ambiguous, yet it is obvious that if population number (city size) does not make a clear difference in productivity, then a diversified approach is better, if only because it renders a more stable and viable situation for all stakeholders. And indeed Farhauer & Kröl do report that numerous empirical studies correlating regional sector structure (either diversified or specialized) with economic growth, have found greater employment rates in diversified regions. Critically though, the study promotes the concept of ‘diversified-specialization’ as more productive, more innovative and more stable than either diversified or specialist structures are on their own. Thus a “region specializing in a certain combination of related sectors is likely to experience higher growth rates than a region specializing in an unrelated portfolio or in one sector only.”

An indeterminate confusion in the literature relevant to the empirical study of local economies has been reported; some studies concluding that a city is specialized, while others say the same city is diversified. Farhauer & Kröl tell that “many cities exhibit multiple specialisations, but – apart from specialization in a few sectors – they show a diversified structure at the same time.” One could easily assume that Farhauer & Kröl are fence-sitting on their suggestion of diversified-specialized cities. Rather, I would suggest they have taken a pragmatic perspective, indicative of diversity and diversification as fundamental to local economies; that is to say, specializations cannot exist in the absence of diversity, and that specializations emerge from a milieu of diverse actors. Arguably, the same may be said of local ecologies.

Furthering the economy/ecology analogy, the authors tell that “companies benefit from proximity to upstream and downstream firms […]” – a statement that is strikingly reminiscent of biological commensal symbiosis between upstream and downstream metabolisms, and of the current best guess regarding the origin of life on Earth; the constitution of the last universal common ancestor. Most fascinating of all, due to its similarity with the inefficient process of photosynthetic primary production, is the statement “cities with lower productivity levels are characterised by higher growth rates.”

LUCA and the progenotes
The idea that any group of modern organisms inherited their genes from a single common ancestor is naive. Much more likely is that the last universal common ancestor (LUCA) was a complex and diverse, sophisticated global community.(30) Early life forms were particularly promiscuous, sharing their genes in a process called horizontal gene transfer (HGT); moving genetic materials, signals, metabolic components, and other resources between cells without necessarily reproducing the entire cell.

“Most researchers now believe we should think of LUCA as a pool of genes shared among a host of primitive organisms [though] some biologists believe that horizontal gene transfer makes LUCA unknowable.”
– Whitfield, 2004

Whitfield (2004), proposes that individual cellular components of the LUCA collective may have independently learned how to solve similar problems, such as membrane construction, or the extraction of energy from certain organic molecules, and that HGT allowed for promiscuous sharing of genes coding such solutions with other cells in the commune.

The cellular functions of modern organisms rely on complex enzymatic machinery. Generally enzymatic components are encoded by several noncontiguous genes, which may be located in different regions of the genome. In contrast, the earliest genes would each have encoded an enzymatic product able to function as a stand-alone functional module – “like cassettes that can be loaded, removed and replaced. Antibiotic-resistance genes are like that today.”

The darwinian threshold, estimated to have occurred 3.5 billion years ago, represents the point in biological history when inheritance and mutation of genes replaced HGT as the dominant mode of evolution; individual cells became more complex and their functions became less interchangeable.

Carl Woese (1998), proposed that the LUCA was not a discrete entity, but a diverse community of cells surviving and evolving as a collective.(31) “This communal ancestor has a physical history but not a genealogical one. The [LUCA] cannot have been a particular organism, a single organismal lineage. It was communal, a loosely knit, diverse conglomeration of primitive cells that evolved as a unit, and it eventually developed to a stage where it broke into several distinct communities, which in their turn become the three primary lines of descent. – The universal ancestor is not an entity, not a thing. It is a process […]. Progenotes(note G) were very unlike modern cells. Their component parts had different ancestries, and the complexion of their componentry changed drastically over time. All possessed the machinery for gene expression and genome replication and at least some rudimentary capacity for cell division. But even these common functions had no genealogical continuity, for they too were subject to the confusion of lateral gene transfer. Progenotes are cell lines without pedigrees, without long-term genetic histories. With no organismal history, no individuality or “self-recognition,” progenotes are not “organisms” in any conventional sense.”

Individually, progenotes differed metabolically, their small genomes necessitating individual metabolic simplicity. Collectively however, the diverse and noncontiguous genome of the progenote population was totipotent, and HGT greatly facilitated the spread of innovations through the population, endowing the progenote community with an enormous evolutionary potential.

“not individual cell lines but the community of progenotes as a whole […] survives and evolves”
– Woese, 1989

Glansdorff et al (2008), teach that “the origin of viruses and their possible role in evolution have opened new perspectives on the emergence and genetic legacy of LUCA”.(32) Order and its corollary, organization, have increased during the evolution of biological systems. Complexity remains a rather poorly defined concept, except in the abstract sense of non-computability; irrationality.

Molecular genetic studies have allowed researchers to infer a sophisticated genomic and metabolic capacity for the LUCA. Generally, the view is one of a diversified and promiscuous community, collectively housing a wide spanning genetic redundancy. “It is indeed very likely that most cells in an ancestral community having engendered the diversity of metabolic functions found in the three Domains possessed more than a single copy of every essential gene as well as numerous paralogous genes. This redundancy could have been selected for as an important survival factor for cells with a still primitive, not fail-safe division mechanism.” As we shall see later, functional redundancy, and an apparent ceiling thereof, is documented as an aspect of the relationship between diversity and productivity.
LUCA_diagram_Glansdorff
Schematic representation of hypothetical emergence and legacy of the LUCA(33)

Promiscuous and multiphenotypic, dynamic and unstable, LUCA existing as a continual process of unregulated (or poorly regulated) incorporation and/or rejection of innovations via lateral exchanges of genomic and/or catalytic components, presumably via a merging process similar to phagocytosis, between cells devoid of rigid envelopes, living as a community in a broad range of temperatures and chemical environments. The community concept allows for the explanation of major transitional events in evolution, via genetic exchanges within an ancestral and promiscuous community, generating a large variety of forms from which new classes of entities may independently emerge at a new level of complexity. “The emergence of the first Domain must have been the outcome of a crisis rather than a progressive development.”

“Above a certain level of diversification and catalytic interconnections, the [prebiotic] system would undergo ‘catalytic closure’, thereby becoming capable of self-replication.” Catalytic closure refers to a situation in which all catalysts (enzymes) required for metabolisis are synthesized within a cellular system. However, catalytic closure does not necessitate all the catalysts to be enclosed within an individual cell membrane, as evidenced by the many and varied examples of obligate symbiosis, including for example our own human state of obligate syntrophy, facilitated by the microbiome of our digestive tract.

The picture painted here, is one of LUCA and the progenotes, as metabolically and morphologically overlapping heterogeneous communities, continually shuffling around genetic material, which may have been composed of RNA, or DNA, or even a combination of the two. A great but not completely localized conglomeration of biologically diverse actors, collectively producing a common good. Taking a broad view, it may not be terribly unrealistic to assume that the modern planetary biome, driven by a vast variety of symbioses, still exists in this more-or-less promiscuous and evolvable state of nature.

Collective divisions of labour: biological multi-dimensionalism
Clonal populations of wild type Bacillus subtilis can diversify to express at least five (documented) distinct cell types, each associated with a specialized function.
1) Motile cells express flagella, which propel cells in low viscosity environments.
flagellum
Schematic diagram of flagellar structure.

2) Surfactin-producing cells secrete an amphiphilic surfactant compound that acts to reduce the surface tension of water, as well as functioning as a communication signal, and as an antimicrobial agent (anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-mycoplasmal, and hemolytic). The various services rendered by Surfactin are embedded within the communal micro-habitat, thus bettering the living conditions for all cells comprising the local cellular collective, for this reason Surfactin is considered to be a public good.
Surfactin
Structural formula of a surfactant.

3) Matrix-producing cells secrete extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), the structural protein TasA, and a variety of antimicrobial compounds. EPS acts in a similar manner to the extracellular matrix in higher animals; a biotic medium surrounding and binding cells, facilitating temporary storage and transfer of information and resources between cells, and generally functioning to buffer the cellular collective from environmental stressors. As a component of the EPS, TasA assembles into amyloid-like fibers that attach to cell walls and play a critical role in the formation of various colony morphologies, and in some modes of colonial expansion. The EPS, including the various functional compounds and morphologies embedded within it, is considered to be a public good.
biofilm
Scanning electron micrograph of biofilm produced by collective secretion of EPS by B. subtilis.

4) Protease-producing cells secrete enzymes that facilitate nutrient acquisition. Secreted proteases are considered public goods.
protease_action_diagram
Schematic diagram of protease function

5) Sporulating cells produce stress-resistant bodies (spores) that can survive extended periods of adverse environmental condition.
endospore
Electron micrograph showing an endospore held within a cell body.

Here then is a tentative list of possible states – the phase space of evolutionarily stable strategies of B. subtilis. Importantly, relative proportions of the various specializations observed in any individual colony develop as a result of the environmental condition(s) experienced by the cell collective, and are geared to propagate and increase the common good. Specifically, Gestel et al (2015), have shown that migration of B. subtilis over a solid surface is dependent upon cellular differentiation of cells in a clonal colony, into two distinct phenotypes; surfactin-producing cells and matrix-producing cells. Collectives of these cell types form highly organized structures that the authors have named ‘van Gogh bundles’; tightly aligned, elastic filamentous loops; chains of cells that push themselves away from the colony edge. The geometries of van Gogh bundles are mediated via mechanical cellular interactions, with small-scale local changes (cell elongation, division, orientation, and polar interactions) at the level of individual cells determining the collective properties of expanding filamentous loops, emergent at the colony level.(33)

B_subtilis_migration
Two distinct cellular phenotypes arising from differentiation of a clonal population of wild type B. subtilis. Surfactin-producing cells (red), matrix-producing cells (green).(34)

Though migration surely is a good strategy for cells living in a limiting environment, we cannot rightly assume that individual bacterial cells are aware of colony-level (organismal) behaviors. In the specific example studied by Gestel et al cells live on a solid surface making individual ‘selfish’ action (flagellar motility) impossible. Apparently the only manner in which individual cells can migrate away from such an environment is via diversified and cooperative, collective action. Though environmental stimuli are important determinants of the differing growth phases of cell collectives, cell differentiation is also inherently stochastic. Gestel et al tell that “under constant environmental conditions, cells can spontaneously differentiate [metabolically switching] into matrix-producing cell chains that are preserved for a number of generations due to a regulatory feedback loop.”

B. subtilis is not the only ‘unicellular’ or ‘single-celled’ species to exhibit a multicellular lifestyle. “Filamentous structures also occur during the colony growth of Paenibacillus vortex and B. mycoides.” Also B. cereus has been shown to switch to a multicellular lifestyle when grown on filter-sterilized soil-extracted soluble organic matter (SESOM) or artificial soil microcosm (ASM) – physical models of environmental conditions that cells encounter in soils. In all four microbial species, multicellularity allows for and facilitates migration via emergent common goods. Interestingly, the domesticated strain B. subtilis 168, which is documented as defective in surfactin production, cannot make the switch to a multicellular lifestyle when grown on SESOM or ASM.

There is an interesting observation to be made here in regard to ESS theory. The mathematical, logical descendent of game theory, is depicted in the literature essentially as a binary system, comprising cooperative and altruistic ‘dove’ actors, versus selfish and aggressive ‘hawk’ actors. In contrast, B. subtilis is presumed to be a quinary system of evolutionary stable strategies, comprising five expressible types of actor, as well as the higher-level collective actor(s) that emerge from synergy between groups of cellular actors – “the formation of van Gogh bundles depends critically on the synergistic interaction of surfactin-producing and matrix-producing cells.”

“Some problems can be solved only when individuals act together. This applies to bacteria in the same way that it applies to humans.”
– Gestel et al, 2015
cooperative_ants
Stigmergic ants cooperate to move a large food article to the nest. Individuals lifting the load cannot ‘see’ where the nest is; a ‘driver’ (bottom of image) nudges the ‘lifters’ in the direction of the nest.

The diversity-productivity relationship
Difficulties in finding or creating metrics of the common good are widespread. Bouter (2010), has professed that “knowledge is a common good”, pointing out that “finding good indicators of scientific quality is no easy task”. Recognizing that “research is becoming less and less the exclusive province of the universities”, Bouter calls for “co-operation in a variety of changing contexts”. In specific regard to evaluation of the societal relevance of scientific research, he has suggested there is “plenty of room for discussion about the validity of the indicators, the optimum level of detail and weighing up the relative importance of its various aspects. […] However, it is clearly too early to adopt a strong quantitative approach.”(34) In fact, there is no standard metric of the common good.

Standardized quantification of diversification and specialization processes, and of diversified or specialized states, has also proven largely intractable, with various researchers using, or creating, differing working definitions and tools. Nevertheless, studies of diversity have been endowed with a probabilistic metric called the diversity index. This theoretical object has been interpreted in a variety of ways; relatives of the diversity index have been used by ecologists in studies of the relationship between plant diversity and ecosystem function, generally showing that “productivity increases with diversity”(35). From these studies has emerged a statistical model of “a fundamentally important ecological pattern”(36) called the diversity-productivity relationship (DPR).

Zhang et al (2012), tell that the DPR “has received considerable attention during the past two decades”, and that numerous grassland experiments have demonstrated positive DPRs; that is, production of biomass increases with increased biodiversity.(37) A positive DPR coexists with increases of resource use, nutrient retention and cycling, niche differentiation and inter-species facilitation. Generally, the greater the diversity of organisms in an ecosystem, the better each organism (or group) is able to survive and reproduce, due to increases of nutrient abundance, resource availability, habitat partitioning and mutualistic symbioses. Critically, the DPR body of knowledge includes insignificant, and negative, as well as positive effects of biodiversity on productivity. These should be expected however, as results of physical (environmental) limitation, and differences of assumption and quantification in individual studies.

DPR studies tend not to show direct links between ecological mechanisms and positive DPRs. This failure, or inability, results partially from the form of scientific inquiry; a necessarily narrow field of view, focused upon one, or a very few, specific aspect(s) of the object or process being studied. In a meta-analysis of global forest productivity, Zhang et al, have commented that the majority of “DPR studies have chosen species richness as the measure of species diversity to define and interpret DPRs. However, richness alone cannot fully represent species diversity in relation to ecosystem functioning because it ignores the influence of species evenness (relative abundance) on [interspecies] interactions. The lack of understanding of species evenness in DPRs is presumably limited by traditional experimental and statistical methods.”

Zhang et al, chose three dimensions of productivity in their DPR meta-analysis.
1) Biomass: Kg of cellulose, though in reality a great deal more and varied biological material is present.
2) Volume: m3 of forest canopy,
3) Basal area: m2 of forest floor.

The former two (biomass and volume) vary with biological activity, the latter is invariant; all three represent limited common goods. It is important to realize that none of these dimensions, neither individually nor collectively, account for actual forest ecosystem productivity, because a great deal of biological activity crucial to aboveground production of biomass and volume occurs below the forest floor, in the shallow layer of topsoils ignored by the global meta-analysis. Similarly, other obvious environmental factors, such as solar radiation and meteorological water, have been excluded, presumably along with a vast array of less obvious or unknown factors. Even so, Zhang et al have concluded, in agreement with the majority of DPR studies, that positive DPRs are a global phenomenon in forest ecosystems, commenting that “polycultures are generally more productive than mono-cultures”, and that evenness of the canopy volume, as well as contrasting traits between various organisms, are central components of positive diversity-productivity relationships. Furthermore, they report the existence of a diversity plateau at the high end of the species richness range, resulting from functional redundancies among species cohabiting an ecosystem. Thus, ecosystemic synergy is driven toward a diversity-productivity ‘ceiling’, imposed by functional redundancy, which we may well define as homeostasis of the common good.

This last point exposes what I believe to be a fundamental sociophysical phenomenon of critical importance to the understanding of common goods and of sustainable development; natural limits are imposed upon all complex systems. Interestingly, if shade is viewed as a phenomenon emerging from the metabolic activities of plant growth, and that shade produced by these conditions drives speciation, then we may rightly consider shade to be a limited common good.

Trogisch (2012), has focused upon processes occurring below the forest floor, specifically the states of nitrogen and leaf litter decomposition in soil samples from a subtropical forest. He has suggested that primary productivity and nutrient cycling be considered common goods, and has confirmed a consensus regarding the reduced vulnerability of diversified ecosystems to environmental stress. Furthermore, he has proposed functional redundancy among diverse species as a systemic stabilizer, allowing ecosystem functions and services to remain unchanged, or less affected, after environmental perturbation.(38)

“Forests account for 80% of the world’s plant biomass and are therefore a main driver and component of the Earth’s biogeochemical cycles. Their versatile services such as climate regulation and protection of soil resources, denotes them as one of the most important terrestrial ecosystems for human wellbeing.” Indeed one may justly argue that forest ecosystems are common goods that propagate wellbeing for a vast, uncounted, number of species.

A most remarkable passage in Trogisch’s thesis teaches that “decomposition dynamics in mixed leaf litter often show non-additive effects so that [nitrogen] is released at a faster rate than predicted from decomposition rates of corresponding single-species leaf litter. Such litter diversity effects during decomposition can lead to a feedback reaction positively influencing plant productivity”. Thus, species diversity affects irrational, non-computable, synergistic processes, that act to increase and stabilize the common good.

Jacobs knowledge spillover: relating the DPR with the common good in an economic context
Jane Jacobs questioned why some cities grow and others decay. Her theory of agricultural origin, published in 1969, proposed that agricultural knowledge and practical technologies emerged from a diversified human collective. Jacobs concluded that “high and sustained levels of innovative behavior and entrepreneurship inevitably result in the increased diversification and complexity of the local economic base over time and that a diversified urban economy provides the best setting for entrepreneurial and innovative behavior”. Thus, increases in the number and diversity of divisions of labor endow an economy with an increased capacity for production of goods and services.(40)

Reviewing Jacobs, Desrochers & Hospers (2007) list four characteristics of economic systems(39) that are also common to biological systems:
1) Development is dependent upon the self-organization of numerous and various complex relationships, from which differentiations emerge, giving rise to an organ from which further differentiations emerge.

2) Expansion (growth) is dependent upon the capture and use of energy. The greater the diversity of means for capturing, using, recapturing, and reusing energy before its discharge from the system, the more resilient the system is.

3) Self-maintenance (constitutive self-regulation) is an intrinsic systemic process, incorporating positive and negative feedback, along with aspects of development and growth.

4) Evasion of systemic collapse incorporates self-maintenance, bifurcation, positive and negative feedback, and emergency adaptations, together helping to ensure systemic longevity. However, entropic effects are certain to impact upon any system, as a gradual increase of disorder (disorganization) in internal (systemic) and external (environmental) structures.

The similarities between ecology and economy in regard to the relationship between diversity and productivity are striking. Critically however, the economic literature ignores, or fails to identify, the presence of natural limits to productivity imposed by a diversity plateau; a functional redundancy among local actors. Building upon Desrochers & Hospers (2007), I propose that the emphasis of economics in modern culture has switched from natural diversity and complexity to artificial specialty and simplicity; from a natural stable-state driven by dynamism, to an unnatural unstable-state propagated by statism; from divergent inefficient creativity, to convergent efficient monotony.

As seems to be the case with all researches attempting to relate diversity and productivity, Desrochers & Leppala have admitted that quantification of frequency and relative importance of Jacobs spillovers (diversity index of knowledge sharing) could not be measured satisfactorily, commenting that “simply because something is immeasurable does not mean that it is necessarily unobservable, unintelligible or unimportant.”(40)

The synergistic function of complex systems identified here as the Jacobs spillover and the DPR is reminiscent of the messy workspace phenomenon – in which the current project(s), may ‘shake hands’ with past works and even future hopefuls, allowing for greater capacities of creative problem solving, insight, adaptation and innovation. Vohs et al (2013), have reported that “disorderly environments […] can produce highly desirable outcomes, […] encourage novelty-seeking and unconventional routes, [thus stimulating] creativity, which has widespread importance for culture, business, and the arts.”(41) Strangely, and rather irrationally, Vohs et al have omitted the sciences in their list of beneficiaries, thus apparently denying scientific pursuits the privilege of “disorderly environments”.

In 1945, the economist and Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek suggested that “any approach, such as that of mathematical economics with its simultaneous equations, which in effect starts from the assumption that people’s knowledge corresponds with the objective facts of the situation, systematically leaves out what is our main task to explain.” He believed that “objective or scientific knowledge is not the sum of all knowledge”, that there are other unorganized kinds of knowledge. Critical of economic theory, Hayek proposed that, in reality, no one has perfect information, only the capacity and skill to find information.(42) Thus the reality of economics is not, as commonly held by economists, a pure logic of choice, but rather “knowledge relevant to actions and plans”.(40)

“Unfortunately for mathematical economists, this kind of knowledge [relevant to actions and plans] cannot enter into statistics: it is mostly subjective”.(40)
– Friedrich Hayek, 1945

“There is something deadening to the human mind in uniformity; progress comes through variation.”(40)
– Malcom Keir, 1919

Desrochers & Leppala (2011) describe an essential aspect of creativity (divergent thinking) as “the capacity to look beyond the normal application context of artifacts and ideas”. Creative, inventive and innovative progress, leading to increases in diversity, knowledge and productivity, is facilitated by opportunities for specialists to explore areas in which they are not experts, and to work on several different projects simultaneously, by means of a variety of familiar and unfamiliar methods. This pair of practical concepts is the path to polymathy. Unsurprising then, that polymaths are viewed by history as individuals who have produced the greatest common good – in the sense that they have given, most often at no cost, greatly useful intellectual gifts to humankind.

Common uncertainty: the diversity index
In a meta-analysis of global economic development, aimed at drawing generic conclusions for all countries with available data, Kaulich (2012), echoes the concerns of Farhauer & Kröl (2012), Bouter (2010), Zhang et al (2012), and Desrochers & Leppala (2011), reporting that “different and sometimes conflicting definitions and measurements of diversification/specialization have been used, together with different datasets”.

The economies of all countries are based upon agriculture, with the successful export of agricultural goods allowing for diversification away from primary production, via the manufacture of initially simple products, leading to increasingly sophisticated activities. Diversification, claims Kaulich, is intrinsic to, and is the driving force of economic development.

Kaulich has also found a positive relationship, specifically between the diversity of products exported by an economy and its per capita level of income.(46) At “quite a high level of income per capita” (~ $22,000 / year) economic diversification of the average country slows down, lead by the manufacturing sector toward a plateau. Thus, as a country transitions from a developing to a developed economy, it simultaneously encounters a diversity ‘ceiling’, which limits its economic growth. This pattern is very similar to the ecological DPR, in which productivity is driven toward a diversity ‘plateau’ imposed by functional redundancies among species cohabiting an ecosystem. Is it fair, then, to speak of an economic diversity-income relationship, and of economic homeostasis?

“A country’s economic growth may be defined as a long-term rise in capacity to supply increasingly diverse economic goods to its population.”(43)
– Kuznets, 1971

“Whatever it is that serves as the driving force of economic development, it cannot be the forces of comparative advantage as conventionally understood. The trick seems to be to acquire mastery over a broader range of activities, instead of concentrating on what one does best.”(44)
– Rodrik (2004)

“The common notion to specialize in “what one does best” as a means to achieve economic prosperity and hence poverty reduction seems to be fundamentally wrong.”(45)
– Kaulich, 2012

Kaulich cites an earlier report, UNIDO (2009), suggesting that re-specialization may occur at the high-income end of economic development. This affords a diplomatic position within the diversity vs. specialization debate, which Kaulich makes masterful use of, posing that economic theories arguing exclusively for or against economic specialization appear contradictory, but may both be correct, albeit identifiable at differing points in the economic development of a country. However, his own analysis of global trade data does not conclusively show a U-curve, suggestive of a decrease in economic diversification at the high-income end in combination with continued increase of income. Instead, Kaulich has confidently reported an L-curve.
Diversification_curve
Sketch graph showing economic diversification increasing with product sophistication and income per capita, leading to a diversity-income plateau.
– adapted from UNIDO (2012)

In stating that “successful policies for economic diversification cannot consist of a top-down process with a static set of rules for the private sector”, the UNIDO working paper clearly advocates a policy admissive of complexity; reliant upon self-regulation, and based upon bottom-up self-organization of diverse actors.

Discussion:
The use of various diversity indices in empirical studies of ecologies and of economies, has produced a pattern among observations. A generally positive relationship is identified between quantitative measures of diversity and productivity, leading to a plateau at the high diversity end of abundance and evenness.

One must ask: is the observed limit a physical, entropic, phenomenon, or an artifact of the diversity index? Irrationally, I prefer the former, and suggest that various independent empirical studies have collectively identified an apparent homeostatic epiphenomenon of sociophysical dynamism; steady-state animism on a macro scale, perhaps even a planetary scale. A common-good-state-of-nature.

It should be appreciated that the terms ‘synergy’, ‘epiphenomenon’ and ‘sociophysics’ sit rather uncomfortably within the envelope of science, because their meanings act as signposts toward an understanding of metaphysics. Perhaps Rosen intuited correctly that relational studies of living systems may produce new knowledge of physics and result in profound changes for science?

At the very least, scientific understandings of economics and politics appear to be fundamentally incorrect, requiring revisions permitting the inclusion of non-computable phenomena, emerging from interactions between diverse actors to produce common goods.

Notes:
F) Hypothesis:
i) Universally, the collective efficiency of a diverse set of actors is greater than that of a specialized set of actors.
η(ΣAd > ΣAs) → U

ii) Locally, the collective efficiency of a specialized set of actors is greater than that of a diverse set of actors.
η(ΣAs > ΣAd) → L

Where U is universal (i.e. global) effect, L is local effect, η is efficiency, Σ is sum (collective), Ad is diverse actor, As is specialized actor.

Hypothetical predictions:
A diverse set of actors is a necessary prerequisite for the emergence of specialized actors.
A diverse set of actors is a necessary prerequisite for the emergence of common goods.

G) Progenotes are defined as organic elements comprising the communal ancestor, identified in the lineages now assumed as the phylogenetic ‘tree of life’.

Bibliography:
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34) L. Bouter, “Knowledge as a common good: the societal relevance of scientific research”, (2010), Higher Education Management and Policy, Vol. 22/1, http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/education/knowledge-as-a-common-good_hemp-v22-art8-en#page1

35) J. van Ruijven and F. Berendse, “Diversity-productivity relationships: Initial effects, long-term patterns, and underlying mechanisms”, (2004), Vol. 102.3, PNAS, abstract http://www.pnas.org/content/102/3/695.abstract

36) H. Hillebrand and B. Cardinale, “A critique for meta-analyses and the productivity-diversity relationship”, (2010), Ecology, Vol. 91.9, p. 2545-2549, http://snre.umich.edu/cardinale/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Hillebrand_Cardinale_Ecology_2010.pdf

37) Y. Zhang, H. Chen, P.Reich, “Forest productivity increases with evenness, species richness and trait variation: a global meta-analysis”, (2012), Journal of Ecology, Vol.100, p.742–749, http://forestecology.cfans.umn.edu/prod/groups/cfans/@pub/@cfans/@forestecology/documents/article/forestproductivityincreases.pdf

38) S. Trogisch, “The functional significance of tree diversity for soil N-pools, leaf litter decomposition and N-uptake complementarity in subtropical forests in China”, (2012), ETH ZURICH, http://e-collection.library.ethz.ch/eserv/eth:6313/eth-6313-02.pdf

39) P. Desrochers & S. Leppala, “Opening up the ‘Jacobs Spillovers’ black box: local diversity, creativity and the processes underlying new combinations”, (2011), Journal of Economic Geography, Vol 11, p. 843–863, abstract only http://joeg.oxfordjournals.org/content/11/5/843

40) P. Desrochers and G-J. Hospers, “Cities and the Economic Development of Nations: An Essay on Jane Jacobs’ Contribution to Economic Theory”, (2007), Canadian Journal of Regional Science, Vol. 3(1), p. 115-130, http://geog.utm.utoronto.ca/desrochers/CJRS_Jacobs.pdf

41) K. Vohs et al, “Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity”, (2013), Psychological Science Vol 24(9), p. 1860–1867, abstract http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/08/01/0956797613480186.abstract

42) B. Godin, “The Knowledge Economy: Fritz Machlup’s Construction of a Synthetic Concept”, (2008), http://www.csiic.ca/pdf/godin_37.pdf

43) S. Kuznets, “Modern Economic Growth: Findings and Reflections. Prize Lecture”, (1971), Lecture to the memory of Alfred Nobel, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/1971/kuznets-lecture.html

44) D. Rodrik, “Industrial Policy for the Twenty-First Century”, (2004), Harvard University, https://www.sss.ias.edu/files/pdfs/Rodrik/Research/industrial-policy-twenty-first-century.pdf

45) F. Kaulich, “Diversification vs. specialization as alternative strategies for economic development: Can we settle a debate by looking at the empirical evidence?”, (2012), Development Policy, Statistics and Research Branch, UNIDO, http://www.unido.org//fileadmin/user_media/Publications/Research_and_statistics/Branch_publications/Research_and_Policy/Files/Working_Papers/2012/WP032012_Ebook.pdf

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The Common Good: a semi-rational emergent property of complex collective interaction between diverse actors – Part I

The common good invariably requires diversification, manifest as random fluctuations within the biological phase space from which emerge divisions of labour, and thus necessarily, inequalities among individuals comprising a social collective. Entropic forcing drives increases of the common good, via increased diversity, to an apparent limit.

Explorations are made of philosophical (Part I) and empirical (Part II) studies in politics, biology, and economics.

Cooperation via collective divisions of labour is a necessary prerequisite to biological metabolism and reproduction. A collective comprising diverse actors is thus assumed fundamental to the planetary biome. The preponderance of benefit (here designated ‘the common good’) that emerges for actors (individuals and groups), is mediated by Woesean collective cooperation, defined as “a diverse community of cells(note A) surviving and evolving as a biological unit.”(1)

“Diversity is an asset with which to confront uncertainty.”
– Groschl, 2013

Part I: Philosophical observations, models and theoretical analyses

Politikos: definition and mediation of the common good
Commenting on Aristotle’s political theory, F. Miller (2011) tells that “the modern word ‘political’ derives from the [Ancient Greek πολιτικός] ‎politikós, ‘of, or pertaining to the polis’ [polis translates as ‘city-state’, or city]. City-states like Athens and Sparta were relatively small and cohesive units, in which political, religious, and cultural concerns were intertwined. The extent of their similarity to modern nation-states is controversial.”(2)

As a point of interest, Amish culture, described in a previous post titled The Worldly and The Amish represents a modern, relatively small and cohesive population unit, in which political, religious, and cultural concerns are intertwined. Presumably, the world’s remaining populations of ‘primitive’ peoples (nations) would also fit this description, so Miller’s controversy appears to exist principally between modern globalized (‘worldly’) culture, and what one might loosely term ‘old school cultures’, or perhaps the ‘old world order’.

Edward Jenks’ well informed comment, describing a founding and central aspect of political states, seems much less controversial: “[Evidently,] all political communities of the modern type owe their existence to successful warfare. As a natural consequence, they are forced to be organized on military principles […].”(3)

Referring to warring as “sad”, Jenks (1909), posed that plunder is easier, or at least quicker, than working to build up and equip a household, and that men would be unwilling to give up a household; property. The resulting conflict, more than feudalism, developed the practical knowledge of plunder – how best to get stuff with a minimal input of work, and how best to protect the stuff you have worked to accumulate. War, then, is a result of ownership and property.

plunder_household
Jacques Callot, “Plundering a Large Farmhouse”, (1633), plate 5, The Miseries of War.
Inscribed: Here are the fine exploits of these inhuman hearts. They ravage everywhere. Nothing escapes their hands. One invents tortures to gain gold, another encourages his accomplices to perform a thousand heinous crimes, and all with one accord viciously commit theft, kidnapping, murder and rape.

Warfare and military organization were surely intrinsic to city-states existing during Aristotle’s lifetime, which he described as comprising a collection of parts (natural resources, households, and individual citizens), together taking a compound form, and certain order, defining the constitution of the state. For Aristotle, state constitution was not just a theoretical, ‘on paper’, statement of cultural ideals, but an immanent organizing principle analogous to the soul (spirit or genius) of an organism. Thus the Aristotelian constitution of the polis is the way of life of the citizens.(2)

In accordance with Aristotle’s political naturalism, political episteme (from Ancient Greek ἐπιστήμη, epistḗmē, ‘knowledge’) incorporates various practical sciences, such as the art of war (military), the art of household management (economy: from Ancient Greek οἰκονομία, oikonomia, ‘management of a household’, ‘administration’), and the art of language (rhetoric: from Ancient Greek ῥητορικός, ‎rhētorikós, ‘concerning public speech’). Critically, all practical sciences are means of rendering a collective human good. “Even if the end is the same for an individual and for a city-state, that of the city-state seems at any rate greater and more complete to attain and preserve. For although it is worthy to attain it for only an individual, it is nobler and more divine to do so for a nation or city-state”.(2)

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few – or the one.”
– Spock & Kirk, Startrek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982

Aristotelian political episteme refers to knowledge of how, why, when and where among the citizenry, noble acts and happiness occur, leading to an understanding of how, where and when to act; implementing policy in order to promote general goodness (a common good quality of life) for the state.

Modern political science does not inspire a great deal of noble action or happiness in citizens, if it did then commoners would surely all hold more respect for careering politicians – a role of state that each of us plays, either by direct action or indirectly by deference of action. The fact that so many modern citizens tend to believe that deference of their individual governing responsibility, to an unknown group of ‘representatives’ is better for them as individuals as well as for the commons, than collective self-governance is, clearly shows a lack of political episteme, and hence faith in political science – a faith in systematized governance, definable as technocracy.

A culture of faith in technocracy renders an equivalence between the church (spiritual affairs) and the state (affairs of governance), which is inescapable even if – or perhaps particularly if – one assumes oneself to be a divine ruler. This common faith of modernity invalidates the controversy suggested by Miller (2011), regarding the extent to which ancient city-states and modern states are (dis)similar; political, spiritual and cultural affairs are as intertwined in modernity as they were in antiquity.

Groschl (2013) propagates the Aristotelian meaning of political episteme, as concerning collective life for its own sake, and he suggests that modern political science acts to prevent people from accessing an understanding of what politics means.(4)

Here then is a guide:
Political life renders a constitution; the socio-physical epifunction of a population that emerges from a cultural milieu, is not attributable to any individual or group, but comprises a collection of individual and/or group interactions within and between a population and its local environment.

Political episteme is a collection of arts; the practical and theoretical knowledge of noble action and happiness of citizens, the purpose of which is to ensure a good constitution; a common good quality of life for a population.

Political science is the practical and theoretical knowledge of distribution and management of power and resources.

Better worded definitions do not detract from the difference in meaning between the latter two. Epistemes are outrospective, mostly open and giving. Sciences are introspective, mostly closed and reductive.

Political science – indeed science of any kind – is attributable solely to humans, and in particular to modern, ‘western’ (now ‘global’) affluent culture. Groschl teaches that political science has been tuned to Hobbesian political philosophy, leading into an era of misconception, or possibly preconception, about the meaning of economy – which is now assumed to be an intrinsic, if not central, aspect of politics. In modernity, both politics and economy have been redirected to face inward, targeting individual private interests as their primary beneficiaries. So it is due to the moral of modern society (modern worldview) that the rights and ambitions of the individual are elevated to a near holy status. We assume genius as ‘proprietary’ of an individual, rather than being the result of the commons; emerging gracefully from the cultural milieu – the complex and uncertain interactions of many and varied actors. Interestingly though, products of genius (generally forms of knowledge) are appropriated by society as common goods.

In emphasis of this last point it seems prudent to assume, as do Bibard & Groschl (2013), that goods and goodness are defined almost ubiquitously among our past and present cultures, as shared phenomena. As an example, they pose little good in owning the most beautiful painting in the world if no one but the painter ever experiences it. Indeed, without sharing experiences of the painting, how can the painter know that it is the most beautiful painting in the world? Goods are necessarily shared, and are thus to a greater or lesser extent, common.

Modernity holds the misinformed consensus that common goods, indeed goods of any kind, are necessarily made; that goods do not exist without the expenditure of energy by some individual or group. This interpretation has most likely resulted from our cultural fixation upon business, in which goods are produced, traded, bought, sold, and finally consumed. Critically, solar radiation and water seem obvious candidate common goods, yet neither can reasonably be assumed to be a product of expenditure of energy by some individual or some group. Also critically, goods are not necessarily good; it is possible to trade bad goods, or a bad lot of otherwise good goods. The word good appears to have a vaguer meaning stemming from the Germanic word gōd.

Orthodox biologists claim that common goods (termed ‘public goods’ in the technical dialect of biology) are invariably products of metabolic activity, and thus require work to produce. The word public is derived from the Latin publicus, which is a blend of poplicus ‘of the people’ (from populus ‘people’) and pubes ‘adult’. In contrast the word common is derived from the Latin communis, which is itself derived from the old Latin comoenus ‎’shared’, ‘general’. Thus the misunderstanding of common good, held by biologists, appears to be due to uncritical confusion of the meanings of the words ‘public’ and ‘common’, and in particular to a propagated misuse of the word ‘public’(note B).

However, this view is not ubiquitous among scientists. In private correspondence, an ecologist and forest ecosystem conservationist from the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, G. Havik, has suggested that we should “distinguish common goods from limited common goods”, as the latter poses important consequences for evolution. “Sunlight” he has said “will not be a limited common good for as long as we are around on this planet – except when you’re in someone’s shade, which has driven speciation”. From Havik’s perspective, sunlight is an unlimited common good that is shared and used, but not produced, by metabolic activities. As we shall learn later during exploration of the diversity productivity relationship (DPR), increased diversity of life systems (speciation) may itself be considered a common good. Thus, in an ecological context, shade is an emergent property of biological metabolism, rendering a limiting condition upon the use of an unlimited common good, and shade is also itself a limited common good, due to its diversification effect upon organisms.

A similar example may be made of water. Orthodoxy says that water can be a common (or public) good only if energy is expended in order to create a good, such as a distribution and/or filtration facility rendering potable water. However, we shall assume a wider, more inclusive and more natural interpretation:
Water is a common good if it is available for use.(note C)

Wealth-getting: profiteering vs. sustaining
Non in depravatis, sed in his quae bene secundum naturam se habent, considerandum est quid sit naturale.
What is natural has to be investigated not in beings that are depraved, but in those that are according to nature.
– Aristole, Politics, Book 1(5)

Business assumes to share the goodness (profit) produced by its activities with a select group of actors (the shareholders), but not with a wider ecological sphere (the stakeholders). Simply, business is conducted for the good of an individual legal person; a corporation. In accordance with political science, the purpose of human social interaction – our political lives – is to serve private interests as exclusively as possible. Another way of saying this is that modern human social interaction is geared toward rendering and increasing private goods.

From my own perspective at the time of writing this essay, a cultural moral of self-fulfillment rather than social responsibility, seems to have peaked in the 1970’s among the post WWII American baby boomer culture; the “Me generation”. Twenge & Campbell (2009) have identified and exposed a generational aftershock; a “destructive spread of narcissism”.(6)
WIIFM_ant

Bibard & Groschl suggest that private profiteering, exemplified by the corporate sector under the umbrella of political science, stands in full contradiction to a possible common good. They tell that ancient political philosophy respected private interests to some degree, and thus allowed business to occur to some extent, as a result of political life. Profiteering however, was viewed as a manner of managing private, familial, household affairs. The commons (community, city-state or nation) while requiring wealth-getting activities, does not necessitate a profit-motivated attitude. Aristotle further dissected wealth-getting, by defining a necessary branch that is related to sustenance, is limited, and by nature a part of household management; and an unnecessary branch that is unlimited, unnatural (abstract) and addictive.

“[Some] people suppose that it is the function of economy (household management) to increase property, and they are continually under the idea that it is their duty to be either safeguarding their substance in money or increasing it to an unlimited amount. The cause of this state of mind is that their interests are set upon life but not upon the good life. [Even] those who fix their aim on the good life seek the good life as measured by bodily enjoyments, so that inasmuch as this also seems to be found in the possession of property, all their energies are occupied in the business of getting wealth; and owing to this the second kind of the art of wealth-getting has arisen. For as their enjoyment is in excess, they try to discover the art that is productive of enjoyable excess; and if they cannot procure it by the art of wealth-getting, they try to do so by some other means, employing each of the faculties in an unnatural way.”(7)
wolf_of_wall_street
Lead characters in the film The Wolf of Wall Street (2013).

“[The] business of drawing provision from the fruits of the soil and from animals is natural to all. But, […] this art is twofold, one branch being of the nature of trade while the other belongs to the household art; and the latter branch is necessary and in good esteem, but the branch connected with exchange is justly discredited (for it is not in accordance with nature, but involves men’s taking things from one another). As this is so, usury is most reasonably hated, because its gain comes from money itself and not from that for the sake of which money was invented. For money was brought into existence for the purpose of exchange, but interest increases the amount of the money itself; consequently this form of the business of getting wealth is of all forms the most contrary to nature.”(7)
– Aristotle ca. 350 BC

Earning money or any manner of profiteering for its own sake, tends to lead people astray from the good life. Aristotelian political philosophy does not assume the Hobbesian primacy of private freedoms, but is oriented toward a common good life via collective functions of community. Likewise, Bibard & Groschl suggest that the ultimate ends of our actions, in business as in political life, should be directed outward, toward the good of the commons, and that the common good should be understood as fulfilling human ends; producing a good quality of life.

Politics should be geared for and directed toward human ends, simple biological needs, not toward vanity or enrichment for their own sake. This message is echoed by the words and meanings of wizards and sages, stretching from ancient times through to modernity. They teach that the path toward intellectual fulfillment via a good quality education, leading to holistic contemplation, is a far healthier human pursuit than is simple material, or worse still, monetary acquisition.

Clearly, ancient philosophies of political episteme and of household management are more relevant to human nature than are their modern theoretic counterparts, political science and economics, respectively. Apparently, people hang onto the modern habit unreasonably; faithfully doing damage.

Spontaneous politic
Aristotle viewed humans as spontaneously political animals, and indeed human nature is fundamentally social. However, social behaviors of some kind or other may be observed throughout the known biome. Organisms are necessarily embedded within life-systems, thus living as parts of collectives (communities, ecosystems) that are formed and maintained via continual biosemiosis.
social_interactions
Consciously or not, we continually measure and compare ourselves and our acts against those of our peers – be they members of our own, or another species.

bacterial_interspecies_interaction
Schematic diagram showing potential bacterial interspecies interactions.(8)

The natural state currently proposed, is a spontaneously occurring, complex, anarchic, self-organizing and self-regulating, adaptive milieu fundamental to life-systems. The ‘state of nature’ is thus understood as an emergent sociophysical epifunction.

Homo sapiens is nestled symbiotically within the wholeness of the planetary biota. A similar natural state may be assumed to exist for all organisms and life systems on Earth, from the lowly kitchen sponge microbe(9)(10), through the great ocean mammal(11), to the mighty forest dendron(12).

Let us venture the supposition that no organism is capable of sustaining life in the absence of interactions with other organisms. Orthodox biologists would disagree with this umbrella definition, arguing that individual unicellular organisms (such as bacterial or archeal cells, some protozoa and algae) are capable of surviving in isolation, as chemotrophic or photosynthetic primary producers. Here, then, stands a challenge to provide an unambiguous example as proof of biotic independence in situ – naturally. In vitro attempts at sustaining an individual cell, isolated from sources of organic nutrients as well as from mineral products of biotic processes, fail rapidly. If access to organic nutrients and biotic mineral cycling is made available to the cell, then metabolism can continue, invariably leading to colonization of the habitat, by invasion of other species and/or clonal (vegetative) reproduction giving rise to genetic mutants. In either case the result is a form of diversified symbiotic collective; a culture.

The interaction imperative is expressed clearly by Cowden (2012), “the organism with the best interaction strategy has the highest fitness [and] stable payoff equilibriums have been shown for cooperation and altruism, behaviors that seem contradictory to the strongly supported individualistic, survival of the fittest mode of evolution”.(13)

Models of social behavior: informatory and unreal
Computer models of social behavior, are fundamentally flawed due to their necessarily rational (computational) basis. Natural systems of social behavior are in part, necessarily logical, but are just as necessarily irrational (non-computable) due to the fundamentally uncertain nature of nature itself. In order to be understandable, a model can only ever approximate nature in a simplistic manner, and in accordance with the state of knowledge (theory) at the time of the model’s construction. The sciences are model based activities, in theory. In practice, the sciences necessarily incorporate, then so far as technically possible, deny the influences of irrational factors.

Models, whether computerized or not, represent a truncation of reality. Scientific knowledge thus also represents a truncation of reality. Fascinating and awesome it is to begin to grasp the scale of modern moral and knowledge lock-in.(14)(15)

Game theory teaches that “cooperation results in the highest mutual benefit”. An offshoot of game theory, evolutionary stable strategy (ESS) theory, assumes that “a uniform environment, and resources are available everywhere”.(13)

ESS theory is an example of modeled social behavior. The theory is originally attributed to John M. Smith, a former aeronautical engineer turned geneticist and theoretical biologist who also developed signaling theory (biosemiotics), and to George Price, a physical chemist turned population geneticist and theoretical biologist, turned devout Christian and altruist. Price eventually committed suicide due to depression, perhaps in part due to an inability to show in practice what was provable in theory.
ESS_men
Clockwise from top left: William D. Hamilton, John M. Smith, George Price, John Nash, John von Neumann.

Smith & Price followed the works of evolutionary biologist and geneticist turned mathematician and logician William D. Hamilton, the polyhistor John von Neumann, and the mathematician, logician and schizophrenic John Nash, the latter both known for their work on game theory. Much like game theory, ESS theory comprises logical manipulation of rational, albeit abstract mathematical characterizations. The subject of ESS theory was popularized by Richard Dawkins in 1976, with his book The Selfish Gene, in which Dawkins made frequent use of the phrase “all other things being equal”, of course in natural environmental circumstances all other things are often not equal. To his credit, Dawkins did make reference to this fact, commenting that the environment does tend to radical and sudden change, thus allowing for the displacement of an existing ESS, which gives way to the emergence of new strategic patterns, before eventual re-stabilization of the biotic system into a new ESS; a new steady state.(16)

In the nascent literature of economics, environmentalism, and political theory, which together form the bulk of serious theoretical work on the topic of sustainable development, the emergence and stabilization of a novel ESS following the breakdown of an existing ESS, is termed a “paradigm shift”, which is nothing less than a change of cultural moral; a change of worldview.

In his popularization of genetic fundamentalism, Dawkins propagated arguments against the existence of altruistic behaviors and group selection, saying that both are common misunderstandings of phenomena that benefit individual genes. Dawkins knowingly skipped over a closely related concept, Hamiltonian inclusive fitness, which must have seemed as likely then as it does now, to disrupt the foundation of the gene-centric orthodox theoretical edifice. In fact, Dawkins’ text mentions inclusive fitness only in a footnote of the (2006) 30th anniversary edition, referring to his colleague and collaborator Alan Grafen, who’s work (Grafen, 1984) reported “the widespread misuse of Hamilton’s concept of ‘inclusive fitness’.” Grafen himself seems to have been considerably broader of mind, admitting that Hamilton’s rule (note D) upon which kin selection theory, inclusive fitness theory, and ESS theory are founded, “holds good only under certain assumptions”. There are “different definitions of [relatedness], and the scope of the rule depends on the definition of [relatedness] employed”. Grafen interpreted inclusive fitness as “a device that simplifies the calculation of conditions for the spread of certain alleles”, and suggested that the expression of those alleles affects the number of offspring produced by other organisms in a population.(17)

This last point brings us to the controversial idea of group selection, which makes intuitive sense (species are born, reproduce and become extinct, just as organisms are born, reproduce and die) but is vague and difficult to rationalize, particularly from the gene-centric perspective. However, empirical evidence of higher level selection (selection of traits above the level of individual organisms) was published by Wade (1976). In his initial study of group fitness among populations of Flour beetles, Wade concluded that a genetic bottlenecking “process of random extinctions with recolonization can establish conditions favorable to the operation of group selection.”(18) In a continuation of his experimental work, Wade (1980), reported that “under many circumstances, a species performance in competition is not predictable from its performance in single-species culture”, and that “competitive ability can be viewed as an indirect but general measure of the nature of population response to group and individual selection for increased and decreased population size.”(19)

Unclear and slight, the group selection idea is perhaps too easily dismissed. We shall not dwell upon it further here, except to point out that it bears the markings of an emergent phenomenon, and to respectfully remind the reader that epigenetic phenomena (the potentially heritable alteration of genetic traits, environmentally affected above the level of DNA code) are a relatively recent discovery.(20)

In regard to altruistic behaviors, Reuter et al (2010), have reported that in humans “oxytocin promotes interpersonal trust by inhibiting defensive behaviours and by linking this inhibition with the activation of dopaminergic reward circuits, enhancing the value of social encounters.”(21) Furthermore, a handful of genetic association studies have linked polymorphisms of the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) and the vasopressin 1a receptor gene (AVPR1A) to prosocial behaviors, while concurrently implicating the dopaminergic system. Thompson et al (2013), report two genes as candidate genes for human altruism, OXTR and cluster of differentiation 38 (CD38), both genes are active in the regulation of blood plasma concentrations of oxytocin. They suggest that OXTR and CD38 mediate trade-offs between self-focused cognition and behaviors, versus prosocial cognition and altruistic behaviors.(22)

“Inclusive fitness is often associated with kin selection, as more closely related organisms more likely share the same alleles – such alleles are referred to as ‘identical by descent’ as they are from a common ancestor. However, altruism genes may be found in non-related individuals, thus relatedness is not a strict requirement of inclusive fitness [which is widely quoted as an explanation for the evolution of altruistic behaviors]” Cowden (2012).

puppy
I continue to feed and care for an organism similar to the one pictured here. Dawkins would say that my expressions of care toward my pet Uma are not altruistic but selfish, that Uma somehow increases my own reproductive capacity, or at least that I am pushing my own feel good button. That may be so, I openly admit that my quality of life is bettered by Uma’s company, though Uma tends to enjoy a good quality of life also.
kitten
We’re not yet sure about the cat, who has been invited into the household to manage a population of mice. Apparently I am incapable of altruism toward mice.

Jest aside, wild biomes (natural states) are not all red in tooth and claw, but they are all complex and diversified, symbiotic and synergistic systems, defined by divisions of labour and collective actions, producing an emergent common good. Inclusive fitness does not describe a Hobbesian war of each against all, but infers the indirect reproduction of identical copies of traits (behaviors or phenotypes linked to environmental or genetic components) parallel to the vertical gene transfer achieved by parents to their offspring; horizontal gene transfer, as documented by microbiologists, comes closer but still does not fully hit the mark of indirect reproduction. Essentially, distant relatives within a species, as well as siblings, even twins, exemplify indirect reproduction. A wider exemplary scope might expose the various and diverse hemoproteins.

hemoglobin
Hemoglobin is a tetrameric protein (left), comprising four heme groups (right).

“If iron is nature’s favorite essential metal, then heme is its Swiss Army knife: a versatile, indispensible tool that, in the company of its protein sheath, can do seemingly anything. The power of heme is particularly evident in the prokaryotes, where diversity in the catalytic activities of heme proteins, as well as proteins involved in the uptake, trafficking and sensing of heme, appears to be vast”.(23)
– Mayfield et al, (2011)

Dawkins paved his approach to the subject of biological collectivism, altruism, and social behavior, with logic and computer models. He was confident that he saw clearly, a single formal system, operating invariant rules, written by men – the theoretical evolutionary stable strategy (ESS). In all honesty, I admit to seeing rather less clearly, more vaguely and uncertainly, a set of complex and interacting systems. Biological processes are changeable, adaptable; are not written; are not rules, but malleable agreements and necessary compromises.

Theoretical biologist R. Rosen, argued that a living organism is not a machine, and thus cannot have a computer-simulable model. Furthermore, Rosen opined that the current reductionistic state of science – “sacrificing the whole in order to study the parts” – is inadequate to create a coherent theory of biological systems, as life is not observed after dissection of a biological organization. Rosen held what seems to be a mystical belief – that biology is not a subset of known physics, that relational studies of living systems (how parts of living systems relate to each other) may produce new knowledge of physics and result in profound changes for science generally. Inspired by Gödel’s theorems of incompleteness, and the limitations of Turing-computability, he suggested that “we should widen our concept of what models are”.(24)

The assumption of strict empiricism is fundamentally untenable, as any observation is necessarily dependent upon subjective experience. Thus the ’empirical sciences’, as well as those bodies of knowledge best termed ‘epistemes’ – including politics, psychology and the ‘arts’ – are principally subjective, intuitive understandings, leading to the formation and execution of practical arts, allowing for the acquisition of empirical knowledge. Rationalizations of irrational processes such as politics and the (inter)actions of political states, are conducive to modeling in a manner similar to the modeling of physical phenomena, those models being necessarily based upon truncations of empirical measurement, to render computable data.

That markets are composed of individual rational actors, is a fundamental supposition upon which modern economic theory is built, allowing for precise computational modeling of economic activity. However, this founding assumption is clearly incorrect; markets are composed of people (individuals and groups), and people are not invariably rational actors. Simply, people are not machines, they do not always Turing-compute, or act in accordance with expectation (theoretical or otherwise); people do not always do the right thing. Thus real market behaviors tend not to conform tightly with statistical, theoretical prediction. This observation is communicated succinctly by Bibard & Groschl, who have said that “the economic assumption of pure and perfect rationality is not an empirical, but a theoretical one”.

The complete failure of economic theory and subsequent data-driven models to predict, even imprecisely and inaccurately, black swan events such as the global finance sector catastrophe of 2007-8 and the ensuing global monetary crisis, is the result of both: truncations of empirical measurement data used in theoretical modeling; and the indoctrination of modern global culture into a system of theoretical and mechanical naivete.

In a very real sense, modern economic theory and models comprise a simplistic interpretation of the realities of political life; and generally, people place near-complete trust and reliance upon technologies that they misunderstand, or outright do not understand.

Groschl (2013) reports that recent annual meetings of the world economic forum at Davos have begun to recognize sustainable development not merely as a mechanical, technical process. Increasingly, behavior is seen as the missing link between analyses (providing knowledge of what is at stake) and implementation (doing something about it). He suggests that a transformation is occurring – or needs to occur, and calls upon his readers to realize that “not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts […]. One cannot rely too much on models and calculations. Instead one must rely on one’s intuition, and trust the intuitions of others”. In so saying, Groschl corroborates my own view, published as part of a previous post titled iconoclast which ends with a call for the realization that the greater part of reality is irrational – “irrationality is the denominator, and rationality the numerator”.

The mechanization of governance: expert systems – not even idiots
Hackett & Groschl speak of a transnational capitalist class (TCC) – the principal shareholders and managers of large corporations. These private businesses do not reside within a single nation, and thus are not bound by the laws and customs of any one nation, rather they are spread across several nations, the governing policies of which they tend to influence. In fact, Hackett & Groschl claim that the influence of transnational corporations has grown to become the core actor in governance discourse. Increasingly, developed states conduct peripheral, enabling roles, while developing countries have been entirely disenfranchised from the global agenda. Transnational corporations affect their influence upon the economies of most countries, and seem to play an ever increasing, albeit private and hidden role in international relations, together resulting in economic activities the scale of which are beyond the capacity of any one nation state. It is said that the power and reach of transnational business has in many ways surpassed the power and capacity of the United Nations.
Based upon the knowledge that people irrationally trust models, the understanding that government policy is strongly influenced by corporate interests, and that the governance of corporations is strongly influenced by economic theory and computer modeling, it seems reasonable to take the view that policy is increasingly being conducted by technological systems, most of which still employ people – albeit with the unrealistic assumption that human components of the politico-technological system are devoid of humanity; that they are perfectly rational actors.

The modern political state is thus modular, and most correctly defined as technocracy. Herein, warn Hackett & Groschl, lies a looming crisis of accountability. With the knowledge that corporate shareholders are not legally liable for the actions of the corporate person they own, and assuming the TCC as the global elite, economically governing group, who will hold the TCC and it’s individual members accountable? – and how?

One answer to this quandary is as predictable as it is incapable; artificial intelligence. Not the ‘general’ or ‘strong’ AI of science fiction, but decidedly unintelligent expert systems. The convergence of governance and expert systems is termed e-government – defined by the United Nations Global E-Government Readiness Report 2004, as “the use of [information and communication technology (ICT)] and its application by the government for the provision of information and public services to the people.”

Several aspects of governance, in business and government, have already been delegated to expert systems, as shown by the broader definition given in a more resent UN document, titled “E-Government for the Future We Want”:
“E-government can be referred to as the use and application of information technologies in public administration to streamline and integrate workflows and processes, to effectively manage data and information, enhance public service delivery, as well as expand communication channels for engagement and empowerment of people. The opportunities offered by the digital development of recent years, whether through online services, big data, social media, mobile apps, or cloud computing, are expanding the way we look at e-government. While e-government still includes electronic interactions of three types – i.e. government-to-government (G2G); government-to-business (G2B); and government-to-consumer (G2C) – a more holistic and multi-stakeholder approach is taking shape.”(25)

The Encyclopedia of Digital Government (2007), provides concrete examples of governance tasks performed by expert systems. “Increasingly, government organizations in the Netherlands use expert systems to make judicial decisions in individual cases under the Dutch General Administrative Law Act […]. Examples of judicial decisions made by expert systems are tax decisions, decisions under the Traffic Law Act (traffic fines), decisions under the General Maintenance Act (maintenance grants), and decisions under the Housing Assistance Act.

There are two categories of judicial expert systems. Expert systems in the first category support the process of judicial decision making by a civil servant. The decision is taken in “cooperation” between a computer and the civil servant. Expert systems in the second category draft judicial decisions without any human interference. In these cases the decision making process is fully automatic.”(26)

In 1989 J. Weintraub authored an article published in AI Magazine (note E), in which he lists twelve possible uses for experts systems in federal, state, and municipal governments.
1) Forecasting – financial planning and cash management
2) Labor relations
3) Document and archive retrieval
4) Regulatory compliance advise
5) Office automation
6) Capital assets analysis
7) Personnel employment assessment
8) Legal advice
9) Instruction
10) Bid and proposal preparation assistance
11) Natural language querying of database
12) Auditing

Further, Weintraub stated that “the applicability of expert systems and AI to government administration can be seen in a careful ‘between the lines’ reading of the Information Systems Plan (ISP). Although not explicitly stated, many of the systems and projects defined in ISP are driven by extensive and complex logic processes and would benefit from AI technology.”(27) This is more than a little humorous, as expert systems are thoroughly incapable of reading “between the lines”, in a sense proving the necessity of humans, whether expert or not, for the interpretation of real-world situations and to propose solutions that better, or at least maintain, a decent quality of life.

In this regard I speak from personal experience, having been subjected, rather frustratingly, to the stress-inducing ridiculousness of the expert system employed by the royal Dutch tax department. In regular correspondence with the Dutch tax system, it failed to remind me of a chat bot only twice during the course of six years – due on both occasions to the intervention of a (human) civil servant. The expert governor (Dutch tax bot) consistently appraised the situation incorrectly, whereas a layman (myself) and civil servant (tax inspector) appraised the situation correctly. The Dutch computer expert governor, a rational specialist, managed very well only to reduce the quality of my life, by not incorporating into the situation argument, the information that I had sent to it.

Apparently, the current culture of deference of individual responsibilities of governance to a group of ‘representative’ strangers, is not dysfunctional enough. Modern culture seeks to defer individual responsibilities of governance even further, feeding them to unintelligent expert systems. While I can imagine the presumed attraction of this course of action, if viewed superficially and from a disinterested distance, my own experiences have proven that deference of governance to machine systems, makes for singularly poor policy, resulting in absurd decision making. Expert systems have no understanding of the knowledge they house, nor of how the implementation of that knowledge impacts upon the quality of people’s lives. Indeed, this is part of the attraction – we hope to better our lives by employing selfless, unbiased, ‘incorruptible’, perfectly rational machines as civil servants; as our governors. A warning! Expert (governing) systems are not intelligent, in fact they are not even idiots.

There may be a glimmer of hope however, in the incorporation and interrelation of several expert systems, representing a diversity of specializations, thus synthesizing a multi-expert system; a diversified-specialized system; a computerized polymath. Such a system would not be intelligent, but it might be capable of more rounded, complex, decision making, which in turn may lead to more livable forms of governance for humans. However, the only sure way to attain a good quality of life is to personally, individually, abandon the current culture of technocratic lock-in (‘representative democracy’), and to begin to govern oneself in association with ones local group, resources, and territory.

Notes
A) For the purpose of this essay, the word cell is assumed to be synonymous with actor, and the latter may refer to molecular as well as systemic agents of action.

B) Take for example the report by Cordero (2012), in which is stated: “A common strategy among microbes living in iron-limited environments is the secretion of siderophores, which can bind poorly soluble iron and make it available to cells via active transport mechanisms. Such siderophore-iron complexes can be thought of as public goods that can be exploited by local communities and drive diversification […]” – italicized emphasis is mine.

C) Of course ‘water’ may be replaced with any object or process.

D) Hamilton’s rule (rB > C) was published in 1964, as a popularization of the mathematical treatment of kin selection, by Fisher and Haldane in the 1930’s, and a further formal mathematical treatment, a theorem, composed by Price.
r = genetic relatedness of the recipient to the actor.
B = benefit gained by the recipient as a result of the act.
C = cost of the act to the actor.

E) Elsevier publishes an entire journal devoted to the field of expert systems in governance, titled “Expert Systems with Applications” [http://www.journals.elsevier.com/expert-systems-with-applications/]. Here are two recent (2012 and 2015) citations:
i) “Evaluation and ranking of risk factors in public–private partnership water supply projects in developing countries using fuzzy synthetic evaluation approach” http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0957417415001487
ii) “An unstructured information management system (UIMS) for emergency management” http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0957417412002813

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