Sunday, May 14, 2017

From engineers to gardeners

There is a nice video explaining that one of the desirable features of the XXIst century economist should be changing our frame of mind from that of an engineer to that of a gardener. In a social reality characterized by complexity, attempts to design reality as if you designed a bridge are doomed to fail. It has much more promise to behave like a gardener: just try things, plant seeds, and help those plants that look more promising. In evolutionary game theory, players do not choose strategies, but they are of one type or another by genetics or socialization. Types that are fitter expand and types that are less successful decline in the overall population. Sometimes in a long run equilibrium only one type survives, put polyarchic equilibria with a diversity of types are also possible. What is then the role of the free will and collective action? Individuals willing to have an influence on reality should also be gardeners: they should try new types, introduce mutations, set up new games. Similarly in politics. In democracy, there is little that one individual or even a group of individuals can do to change or improve things. There are many unintended consequences. But it makes sense to pay attention to new ways of doing things: some of them will fail, others will succeed. Long periods of stability will be followed but short periods of big change (these are called punctuated equilibria in the analysis of complex systems), but this does not mean that one individual can predict and much less shape a sudden change. The result of big changes when they happen can be influenced by small steps taken in periods of stability. These ideas could perhaps be adapted to the attempts of a changing (declining?) left to influence the direction of Europe in the next few years. Those organizations that will prevail and be more successful will be those that are fitter to achieve the objectives of the left, which are the same as ever: equality, justice, freedom, solidarity, welfare... Adaptation to the environment is a desirable characteristic for a plant that any gardener should take into account. And today's social environment has as key ingredients integrated economies, globabilization and technological change. Those that adapt better to this reality will be better at achieving those objectives. Being reactive and short-termist may fool some into believing that they shape events, but what matters and can make a (small) difference is planting seeds for the long run.

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