Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Why Aren't Chimpanzees Wealthy?

Why are humans wealthy, but chimpanzees are not? Both engage in trade. Both are tool makers and tool users. Yes, there is a difference in quality and quantity, but one would surely think this similarity to humans would make chimpanzees wealthier than, say, lions, but they're not.

I recently commented on the fact that in social mammals, the entrepreneurs are the subordinates. So entrepreneurship is found in all social mammals -- which does not explain why humans are wealthy. But my musings on the issue do suggest a reason.

In all social mammals, including humans, the dominant alphas can take anything they want any time they want to do anything they want with what they take. Thus, value flows to them. And it flows to them by those alphas breaking network bonds.

Self-organizing networks can only become so complex if the bonds that make up the network are being broken all the time. Value is not increased by trade because most interactions involve value being directed to the alpha, who uses what he or she gets to improve their social position, including rewarding cronies.

In order for these networks to become more complex, you have to weaken the position of the alpha. And this is what we see in humans -- specifically, we see it happening in humans in the last few hundred years. This has allowed our trade networks to create wealth and to complexify over time. Spontaneous orders require equality among participants, freedom of entry and exit, and the rule that you get to keep what you traded. These are the rules of a social species in which the submissives have come to dominate socially.

Redistributionist schemes are thus, to a certain degree, atavistic in nature. They go back to the idea that there should be an alpha who should distribute the goods of the social group as he or she sees fit. Both it and self-organizing, increasingly complex networks are natural. But only one results in human levels of wealth. The other brings us back to the conditions of our ape ancestors.
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