Monday, March 04, 2013

Subordinate Apes and Entrepreneurship

In a real sense, entrepreneurs are society's guinea pigs. They face higher risks than the rest of us, and are more likely to fail than succeed at whatever it is they are trying. The entrepreneur may be an artist as much as the potential business person. The risk are big, but when there is a payoff, those risks prove to be worth the risks.

Humans are social mammals, and looking at what takes place in other social species is often quite instructive. As it turns out, in other social species, it is the subordinate animals which act as the guinea pigs, taking the most risks for their social groups, while the dominant (alpha) animals hang back to see how everything turns out.

This sounds exactly like what happens in an economy like ours. The entrepreneur starts off life as a subordinate -- low in the social hierarchy. They take risks, and sometimes they succeed. As their businesses become more successful, they gain dominance, become alphas themselves, and want fewer risks -- thus, they invite regulations into their industries in order to reduce competition from others and, thus, their own risks. The regulators -- people in government who are alpha primates almost by definition -- themselves are risk-adverse, and have set up a system that prevents them from experiencing too much risk.

What we then see is risk-adverse alpha primates both looking down on the risk-taking subordinates for being subordinates, and relying on those risk-taking subordinates for the success of the social group. Does  this not describe the seemingly contradictory attitudes of many anti-market people in government? Obama fits this about as beautifully as one could want. He clearly looks down on risk-takers (who we now know to be perceived by him as subordinates, who of course should be looked down on), but realizes too that he needs them for the protection of his social group.

The free market, then, is the direct promoter of the subordinate human. The entrepreneur is the subordinate taking the risks of society, and sometimes benefiting from that risk to such a degree that (s)he becomes a dominant member of society. Spontaneous orders emerge when the subordinate humans come to socially dominate. Attempts to impose hierarchical network structures are attempts by alpha humans to reassert their dominance. Given the dominance of the subordinates, the alpha humans resort to pro-subordinate rhetoric to maintain their power. It is unlikely we will ever see an end to this struggle. In fact, since one cannot have subordinates without alphas, the elimination of the alphas would result in the elimination of entrepreneurship as well. Those paradoxical tensions must exist to drive social complexity. Which means the struggle for liberty will never end.
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