Does Capitalism Destroy Cooperation?

Peter Turchin


One of the chief reasons I became an advocate of the Cultural Multilevel Selection (CMLS) theory is that it wonderfully clarifies the relationship between competition and cooperation.

  • Competition between groups (up to whole societies) fosters within-group cooperation.
  • Competition within groups (between their members) destroys cooperation.

If you wanted a two-sentence summary of Ultrasociety this would be it.

I’ve been applying these principles in my research on the evolution of complex societies (and a lot more is to come, now that the Seshat Databank have come of age and is generating a tremendous volume of empirical results—which you will see in a year or two, as academic publication mill-stones grind sooo slowly).

But I have also felt that the CMLS theory tells us a lot not only about political organizations like the states, but also about economic organizations—firms competing in markets. This goes very much against the grain, especially as far as economists are concerned. Milton Friedman, of course, always argued that economic agents should strictly follow their material interests; there is no place for “extra-rational motives” in business. Most economists today feel the same way, although few are willing to state it as boldly as Friedman did.

Thus, it was very refreshing to receive two years ago an email from Branko Milanovic, an economist whom I greatly admire, in which he was willing to go on record and state this position very forcefully (I published Branko’s letter as a guest blog on Cliodynamica). I also invited two economist friends to comment: Bob Frank and Herb Gintis, as well as writing a response myself. The whole exchange was recently re-published by Evonomics and generated a lot of discussion.

More recently Branko wrote a review of Kate Raworth’s new book Doughnut Economics. A central question in the ensuing debate between him and Kate (see it here) is the same we debated two years ago (see also a good summary on Vulgar Economics). Here’s what Branko wrote about the “human nature under hyper-commercialized global capitalism”:

Here I respectfully decline to be moved by the results of any of the “games” that Kate cites and that are supposed to reveal human nature. These games are indeed games; they are not the way people behave in real life. Games are good in generating publishable papers but they tell us nothing about how the same people would (or do) behave in real life.

Two years ago I wouldn’t know how to respond to Branko on this point, but fortunately recently I finished reading a remarkable book, which provides me all the ammunition I need.

Before discussing it, let’s define the question more explicitly. I agree that most people much of the time, and some people all of the time, are motivated by very “rational” calculations. When I decide which supermarket I am going to go for food, I try to minimize the amount of money I will pay and the amount of time I will spend, while maximizing produce quality and selection. It’s a very straightforward optimization problem.

But capitalism is not just about buying and selling things—people have been doing commerce for millennia before capitalism. Surely the amazing capacity of capitalism to transform knowledge into innovation, and innovation into economic growth is one of the central of its attributes? So let’s talk about such successful innovation hotspots, as the Silicon Valley. What are the motivations driving successful entrepreneurs within such hotspots?

If you want to find out the answers to these questions, read The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley by Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt. Now, Hwang and Horowitt are not scientists, and their book is not a rigorous scientific study. But they spent decades bringing together venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, both in their native California and all over the globe—“Japan, Taiwan, Scandinavia, and New Zealand, … Mexico, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian Territories.” Given their enormous experience, the empirical base, with which they operate in the book, transcends the dismissive academic characterization as “anecdotal.”

A central theme that recurs throughout the book is that successful entrepreneurs, and the successful innovation systems in which they operate, such as the Silicon Valley or Route 128 in Massachusetts, are the antithesis of the rational businessperson postulated by Branko, one who is solely motivated by money. In fact, “Rainforests [their term for successful innovation systems] depend on people not behaving like rational actors.” “For Rainforests to be sustainable, greed must be restrained.” “Predatory venture capitalists might win a few in the short run, but they do not last long in the business and are unable to build lasting firms.”

The evolutionary logic of entrepreneurship, according to Hwang and Horowitt, is precisely the opposite of that posited by Branko. Predatory, super-competitive individuals and firms are eliminated by natural selection, and only cooperative ones survive. They write:

Extra-rational motivations—those that transcend the classical divide between rational and irrational—are not normally considered critical drivers of economic value-creation. …  These motivations include the thrill of competition, human altruism, a thirst for adventure, a joy of discovery and creativity, a concern for future generations, and a desire for meaning in one’s life, among many others. Our work over the years has led us to conclude that these types of motivations are not just “nice to have.” They are, in fact, “must have” building blocks of the Rainforest.

Many successful entrepreneurs (think Steve Jobs or Elon Musk) clearly were not motivated solely by money. Naturally, they did not give their billions away, and for some other very successful innovators, perhaps, all they wanted was to become filthy rich. But the point that Branko makes, that capitalism “is a system really built on the best use of our vices, including greed” is clearly wrong.

This is why when governments and corporations try to incentivize innovation by focusing on financial mechanisms, the overall result is failure. By the end of the book, Hwang and Horowitt boil down their own recommendations as to what makes successful “Rainforests” thrive. They are four.

First, diversity, which brings people with very different knowledge and skills together, such as a scientist, a venture capitalist, an engineer, a sales specialist, and an administrator (a CEO).

Second, extra-rational motivations, because self-regarding rational actors are simply unable to cooperate to launch a successful innovation enterprise.

Third, social trust, because successful cooperation is the only way to beat the terrible odds against a successful innovation startup, and cooperation requires trust.

Fourth, a set of social norms that regulate the behavior of various cooperating agents, and willingness both to follow them and to enforce these rules by various sanctions.

In other words, Hwang and Horowitt describe a system that uses precisely the same components to bring about cooperation that have been studied in other settings (a foraging group, a military troop, a religious sect, and a state), and in the abstract, by cultural evolutionists.

The Rainforest, then, provides ample empirical material to reject the theory that economic growth, which is based on innovation, is moved by self-interested rational agents. But—and it was one of the real eye-openers for me—it also explains why this is so. I discuss this in Part II.

Notify of
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Walt Socha

I’ve become way pessimistic lately. Not just about the political mess in our country, but also about the effects of self-destructing capitalism.

This post has provided me with a bit of hope.



You make a great point on what is required to start a company under capitalism. The problem comes when you try to expand that out to established firms, not that you are wrong but you need more evidence. The post war boom did have a more collectivist capitalism to it. But Milton Friedman found a way to make CEO’s become obsessed with profit above all else. They started paying CEO’s and other top management in stock options and made stock buybacks legal. That removed any incentive for CEO’s to act in the long term best interest and almost every major firm has been cannibalizing itself ever since.

And as Kalecki’s profit equation elegantly points out capitalists profits equal capitalists investment. if they pull everything out in profits instead of reinvesting in growth they are destroying future profits.

IMO the question isn’t is capitalism capable of being more socially responsible, yes obviously it has been in the past. The question is it capable of remaining so for any significant amount of time before it reverts back to crony capitalistic neo-feudalism. I think that question is also well covered by Kalecki.


Also of interest to you might be Economist and ‘White Collar Criminologist’ Bill Black, who played a significant role in going after bankers in the S & L crisis. He frequently refers to industries that become criminogenic, where a “Gresham’s” dynamic pushes all honest brokers out of the system.


I still think you are focusing to narrowly and conflating two premises. Premise 1: Only some people / firms do act selfishly, but they have control of most large businesses, and acting this way gives them an advantage, this advantage while benefiting the individual / firm at first in the short term is bad for society as a whole and has long term negative effects on the firm. Premise 2. Only some people / firms do act selfishly, they don’t represent a majority though, because this makes them weaker and less likely to succeed.

I’d say it’s abundantly clear that the Freedmen paradigm of individual selfishness leading to the best of all worlds is so obviously false it doesn’t even deserve to be considered. You seem to be implying premise 2 is true most of the time. In my opinion it may be true in some specific cases, like when firms are small and just starting out but there is much more evidence for Premise 1.

Broadly I would say that this is just a discussion about the social dynamics that lead to monopolized industries.

William Berkson

Interesting, and should be pushed further. It seems to me that the hugely successful entrepreneurs have a complex and strong personality with seemingly contradictory sides. They seem to have often both a ruthlessness and an ability to be loyal and inspire loyalty. Can one capture this complexity?

Rod Watkins

The problem I have with the Friedman model is that it narrowly defines self-interest, or just plain greed, as a quantity that’s measured by only a single metric, money. Yet self-interest can manifest itself across a much broader range. For example, while elites may spend, as the song goes,“every dime for a wonderful time,” some may define that as jets and yachts while others may get more value from humanitarian projects. And if self-interest is maximized through the latter it can hardly be called altruistic, but is rather just a different definition of what constitutes value to them. I personally think that we’re seeing a social shift in how people define value, which will spill over into capitalism. My personal sense is that that is part due to the changing buying behaviors of younger generations, and part enabled by the capacity of the Internet to reconfigure business models. I think this will really get interesting as social communities become economic communities. So I look forward to reading this book.

Rod Watkins

True. And yet I think a continuum of self-interest can be drawn with greed/egotism on the cooperatively negative endpoint – characterized by a need for public validation of one’s ego through power, money, privilege and the act of dominating others – and more of an ethical egoism on the positive end of the continuum in which personal/social self-interest is more rooted in the desire to nurture social cooperation. Although neither can really be called altruistic as there is much to be gained by both in their own ways, there is a clear difference in social outcomes and personal “payoffs.”


I guess you guys haven’t read all those exposes on Mother Theresa showing that she was a sadistic person who thrived on the pain and destitution of the poor and inflicted. This is not a joke.

Also I would be careful not to confuse intentions with results. The only way to make sense of modern society and the unprecedented cooperative gains we have made in prosperity, freedom, health, education and tolerance is that we have learned to channel self interest and competition into social good.

A scientist or academic gains “validation of one’s ego” by gaining status in the advance of science and or knowledge. (And he probably even takes personal pleasure on beating his opponent)

A manager gains status and power by doing a better job of serving customers at the local Panera, working her way up to more influence and salary to support her family (greed?) while making more customers and investors happy.

An inventor creates a better coffee maker For the money, helping us all get a tasty hot beverage each morning.

A rock artist composes and performs a new tune hoping to get “money for nothing and chicks for free”. We get a great new song.

Granted, there are negative or zero sum ways to gain status, wealth or privilege. But the point is that social advance comes not primarily from altruism, but from mutualism. Win wins more so than win losses.


“Ultimately all motives can be expressed in a hedonistic calculus. Mother Teresa helped the poorest of the poor because it made her feel good.”

That is logically circular nonsense. There are quantifiable entities, and non-quantifiable entities, and a “hedonistic calculus” is a “calculus” of what cannot be quantified, or it is not “hedonistic”.

Definition “All people do what makes them feel good.” Counter example of ascetic guy sitting on nails. Response “X sits on nails because it makes the feel good”, either expands what it means to “make yourself feel good” to vacuousness, or is simple a stupid thing to say.

Economists pretending to quantify things that can’t be quantified was one of the criticism that Piero Sraffa leveled against economics. Obviously, they want to get away from that labor + surplus value thing in Classical Economics for certain political reasons, but microeconomic lassez faire dust doesn’t do the job.


How does any economic entity go about pricing its products in the first instance (in the second instance, it will look at market price)? Do they determine the psychological “hedonic value” of their product to the median purchaser in their anticipated market and set the price accordingly? No, they calculate their production costs and they add a factor over costs. If they sell out, they make more and raise the price. If they have a surplus, the cut the price. Utility is poppy-cock.

William Berkson

I’m with KD here, but because work for some time shows that all desires being linearly comparable is a badly dated theory. Herbert Simon showed with his “satisfying”—which he got the Nobel for, I believe—that people try to fulfill needs and wants in a number of different areas. It isn’t all on one scale. Also Kahneman and Twersky showed, for example, that people are more moved by loss aversion than positive wants. The whole “utils” way of thinking is I think pretty discredited, at least as a realistic theory.

The reason that is important in discussion here, is because status goals are different from, and can even be at odds with monetary ones, but are powerful motivators. And the way people think about their goals and lives is also influenced by religion and culture. So if we’re going to talk evolution, all that needs to be included.

My suspicion is that evolution of systems that combine cooperation and competition in a way that is most productive for the social group is likely to most predict group survival…

William Berkson

I’m with KD here, but because work for some time shows that all desires being linearly comparable is a badly dated theory. Herbert Simon showed with his “satisfying”—which he got the Nobel for, I believe—that people try to fulfill needs and wants in a number of different areas. It isn’t all on one scale. Also Kahneman and Twersky showed, for example, that people are more moved by loss aversion than positive wants. The whole “utils” way of thinking is I think pretty discredited, at least as a realistic theory.

The reason that is important in discussion here, is because status goals are different from, and can even be at odds with monetary ones, but are powerful motivators. And the way people think about their goals and lives is also influenced by religion and culture. So if we’re going to talk evolution, all that needs to be included.

My suspicion is that evolution of systems that combine cooperation and competition in a way that is most productive for the social group is likely to most predict group survival…

Bichara Sahely

We should not believe everything we are programmed to think. What if our true nature as a self-domesticated species is that of cooperation and capitalism is a pathogenic system that makes competition, greed, hoarding and self-interest irrational while cooperation, sufficiency, sharing and other-interest rational? What if it was not competition via warfare but cooperation by trade of ideas, goods and services that made us ultrasocial? I always remind myself of Hegel’s reminder that peace and harmony are the blank pages of history. This together with might is right and it is the victors who write history, suggest that we have evidence-biased narratives. We should not believe everything we are programmed to think.

As a medical doctor, here is why I think it is capitalism that has programmed us to think this way and have created pathogenic disconnected, competitive and addicted selves.

Padraig O Raghaill

I do find this rather interesting, and you could use it as evidence of why there is so much pushback against some of the world’s largest companies and why so many large conglomerates end up dying out. You would find it difficult to mount a defence that much of the modern model of capitalism has not turned into fascism.

“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” – Giovanni Gentile

We move from a cooperative version of capitalism whereby workers are respected; competition tolerated into a market dominance methodology fueled by political intertwining for favourable conditions. This uncooperative model breeds resentment in the people and the business community. The much-touted and misnomered neoliberalism model of capitalism is corporatism, and it kills the SME sector. Corporatism favours monopoly. The Germans recognise this, so they have their version of neoliberalism called ‘Ordoliberalism’ identifying the monopoly flaw in neoliberalism. (Yet with their customers running out of money their economy has issues too, being an exporter producer they do require their customers (other populations to have growing economies.)

When we talk about monopoly, it is not just in the classic sense of single providers but when you have corporate interests supplying most good and or services. What it does is lowers the transaction cost to serve a market. in effect, it exploits customers and workers. Amazon is like the epitome of this effect. By reducing the transaction cost, it sent traditional SME’s to the wall. Breeds more resentment, workers become low paid tools, and again more resentment builds through an uncooperative model.

Government loves corporatism as it allows them to lower their transaction costs streamlining revenue to their coffers. In turn, due to the size of the transactions the corporation, in turn, optimise the government costs similar to a supplier gaining the best transaction price (sweetheart tax deals.)

Employees lose, as we saw with Google, using third parties to facilitate staff on bad employment deals and zero hour contracts. Under corporatism everybody losses apart from the company. Competition cannot compete as they have lowered the transaction cost to such an extent that you cannot survive to provide an alternative service. The general public loose through lack of diversity, (it is why so many chains are identical in product offering) Some new breeds of business develop on the back of technology as they find ways to lower the transaction cost even more. See Uber, automated checkout, etc. Again the consumer loses (higher transaction cost, ‘slower checkout’.) Competition loses cannot compete with a machine. New companies start with high resentment again see Uber.

If we look at the rise of the young in many countries talking about socialism, we can directly track that back to the rise of corporatism. It is in the uncooperative model of business that places the worker and consumer at the bottom of the pile. Cooperation is not just in the coming together of skills, but also for the greater good for society as a whole. “Ultrasociety” will see that cooperation return where all must benifet from commerce.

al loomis

mark blyth makes the point that most of the seminal ideas underlying the web arise from military research, darpa etc, and presumably is not driven by greed. the money men live off the creativity of others.
so i don’t call capitalism a system, it’s just a natural function that used to be called ‘the law of the jungle.’ the law has been transposed from the african savannah to electric city but remains a primal function, even though hunger is now greed.
politics is our attempt to bring individual will into collective action, generally directed by a ‘big man,’ but occasionally with an element of social consensus. even genghis khan had to consult his generals. this tendency has evolved to the point of giving lip service to democracy, perhaps because education and communication both reveal the weakness of leaders and allow concerted action by the general public.
too late, i think. our ‘big men’ have led us to the cliff edge of environmental collapse, in service to greed and arrogance, and the democratic functions are not sufficiently well developed to pull us back in time.

Pete Richerson

Some other interesting pieces by economists:

Nunn, N. (2014). Historical development Handbook of economic growth (Vol. 2, pp. 347-402): Elsevier.

Bowles, S. (2016). The moral economy: why good incentives are no substitute for good citizens: Yale University Press.


Another terrific book:
Luigi Zingales: “Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists”

After living through Berlusconi in Italy, he foresaw the rise of Trump in the US and points out that unless capitalists are restrained, they will inevitably create a corporatist system.


On your opening summary Ultrasociety, let me restate my original suggestion to you on the book (which was excellent);

I sense that you could provide better distinctions between types of competition. You do allude to it in places, but I would suggest that there are CONSTRUCTIVE and DESTRUCTIVE types of competition (and both types of cooperation also).

Constructive competition is healthy competition, usually accompanied by rules to keep it so. Examples include the constructive competition for discovery in science, the healthy competition in sports to acquire a position and/or to entertain fans, and so on. Destructive internal competition does need to be suppressed, but constructive internal competition can actually be increased or fostered. The balance isn’t just between competition and cooperation, but between constructive and destructive types of each.

It simply is not true that more internal competition destroys cooperation. If it is constructive competition, it can be guided to enhance cooperation. You can compete to cooperate better. The spectrum would be as follows:

Worst case: Extensive internal destructive competition
Middle case: No internal destructive competition
Best case: Extensive internal constructive competition to cooperate better

The value of external competition isn’t just to get us from the worst case to the middle, it is to force us to discover the best case, to begin a healthy competition to continuously seek to improve our level of cooperativeness. Thus external competition, of the right type, can be constructive in driving internal cooperation and healthy constructive internal competition.

So, no, competition within groups does not destroy cooperation, nor is all cooperation good in the first place. You need to differentiate between constructive and destructive forms of each to have useful heuristics.


You started by saying competition within groups destroys cooperation, but now we get the caveat that competition within groups (by definition mixed with cooperation) which doesn’t destroy cooperation is itself cooperation. Your argument is circular, confusing, goes against common usage and would be virtually impossible to implement.

The early game theorists got into the same jam by messing up their definitions of cooperation and altruism (for the first few decades they defined cooperation as sacrificing personal interests, oddly blind to mutualistic interactions (see the tainted history of “reciprocal altruism”).

Let me give some examples.

If two prospective employees compete for a job opening, they are competing for the job, not cooperating. But the competition is constructive as the hiring firm benefits by getting the better person for the job. From a broader social perspective, this is a constructive competition.

If two inventors compete to create a new technology, or two scientists to better explain natural phenomena, it is a constructive form of cooperation.

When two boxers, agreeing to play by the rules, get paid a million dollars each and entertain millions of viewers, they are not cooperating. They are competing, albeit constructively.


Oops, correct the scientist/inventor paragraph’s end word from cooperation to “competition.” I blame my editor.

Peter van den Engel

The defenition is very simple: when it benefits a larger group interest competition between individuals means cooperation = larger body of potential, for the group. Note body of potential is not the same as synchronizing behavior, which is also called cooperation.
Our language contains a level of illiteracy, disabling it to create exact definitions: it is ambiguous, however still allows further description.

So the examples of applying for a job, the inventors and the scientists are correct: they serve a larger group interest.
Also they are not about money, but knowledge.
However the example of the two boxers is incorrect.
When you include that group interest should be about efficiency: knowing what is best for the group’s future.
A simple physical fight with fists was only effective in pre historic times.
So people watching this and paying for it resulting in a million dollar income, live on a prehistoric level of knowledge, which should not be in the group interest.
It is cooperation on the group level/ however in competition with reality – and that is a group interest you better not compete with 🙂


Which leads back to competition is bad unless it is good, in which case we call it cooperation. Circular, confusing and contrary to conventional usage.

The better solution is to distinguish between constructive and destructive versions of both cooperation and competition, and promote constructive versions and limit destructive.

Bichara Sahely

This brings to mind Prof John McMurtry’s article describing the two modes of competition you described above, the dominant pathological destructive and the alternative non-pathological constructive forms you described above. I have reproduced the article here:

Also constructive competition may be related to the concept of coopetition, which can be intra-group and inter-group, and may provide the unifying concept supports the view that it is intergroup salutogenic constructive competition in production of ideas, goods and services that is responsible for our ultasociality, rather than intergroup pathogenic destructive competition of warfare which produces the salutogenic fruits that drove the evolution of ultrasocialitiy.

It is the dominant dominating zero-sum rules of engagement of destructive competition aided and abetted by our extractive and exploitive hegemonic money and military games that are responsible for the destabilization and degenerative trends we see in our social, financial and ecological spheres.

It is the still yet unseen alternative of the partnership positive-sum rules of engagement of constructive competition (to enable our full individual and collective life-capacities and capabilities that is the solution. This would require an overhaul of our rules of engagements to one of rule of life-protective law, which has been implicit in all of life’s symbiotic and coopetitive relationships from when life started on this planet. A frame-work for this reframing of value and meaning has already been worked out.


McMurtry is on the right path with the distinction between positive sum and negative sum competition, especially if you consider the externalities to the competition.

Funny thing on “coopetition”. Over a decade ago, as I was formulating my thoughts on competition and cooperation (which much later led to my reading of Ultrasociety and coming to this site) I penned the term “coopetition” to capture the concept of competition with constructive value. I suspected it was an obvious term and sure to be used by someone else, which led to me finding the book by the same name (which preceded my use of the term).

However in looking at the book, they use the term in a very different way. They are basically arguing for cooperation between competing parties on shared interests. An example might be two wrestlers agreeing to cooperate by clearing the field of sharp rocks and debris prior to the match. This was not at all what is meant by constructive competition.

Constructive competition is a zero sum dimension used to improve outcomes in a larger system. As mentioned above, two scientists vying for personal gain to cure cancer, two academics competing to be their best to get a position, two tennis players competing as hard as they can for either personal enjoyment or fan entertainment.

Hence, I stopped using the term coopetition. Another reason was that it is real clumsy in various verb and noun forms — “coopetate” “coopetitors”

But bringing this back to the post at hand, for organizations to thrive, it is absolutely incorrect to recommend less internal competition. Complex social organizations need to promote constructive internal competition and use this as a driving force or engine of problem solving. Just as Turchin correctly stresses the value of external competition as a driver of internal problem solving, it is just as important to stress the value of healthy, constructive internal competition.

Peter van den Engel

Yes, there is a difference between constructive and destructive competition/ however introducing this as a general scientific theory is meaningless because it lacks all definition.
The point is everybody is already doing this by intuition. But when intuition decides, it never knows what outcome is improved and on what level.

Using patents for example is a form of internal cooperation, forced by outside competition/ but prevents the distribution of knowledge and is therefore destructive competition.
It depends very much on what level installed incentives operate. Whether they allow sharing/ or prevail it and whether sharing would lead to a higher degree of efficiency in the larger system.
Which articulates the objections of liberals regarding socialist societies.

Bichara Sahely

I agree with your statement: “Complex social organizations need to promote constructive internal competition and use this as a driving force or engine of problem solving. Just as Turchin correctly stresses the value of external competition as a driver of internal problem solving, it is just as important to stress the value of healthy, constructive internal competition.”

My major contention and the reason why I decided to engage the discussion here is that Turchin made the conclusion that it was 10,000 years of warfare which is life-and ecologically destructive external competition between groups that was the driver for intragroup constructive cooperation that made us a prosocial species.

I can take his argument to the extreme and generalize his statement in which our war with Nature and do better than her, would force us to cooperate as a species and make us super-ultrasocial, and this does not make any sense. If we undermine and make scarce the life-supporting and life-generating system of the planet, there would be more and more destructive competition for scarcer and scarcer life-goods and services, not more. When we have totally vanquished the our life-supporting system of the planet and collapse, would we have reason to celebrate? Life-destructive competition or even life-destructive cooperation leads to a dead end. It is only life-affirmative competition and cooperation that would allow us to survive and thrive.

I suspect it was the development of more prosocial cooperative sharing of life-affirming ideas, goods and services via the evolving tripartite infrastructure of communication, energy and transportation as explained in Rifkin’s trilogy of books from Empathic Civilisation, to Third Industrial Revolution to Zero Marginal Society, that is the still yet unseen and not achnowledge by mainstream academia. By ignoring the life-affirming structures of the household and the commons which is the reason for the prosociality which is the yet unseen portion of the evolution iceberg, and focusing on the life-destructive part above the waters that is seen, we may mistaken our progress with part above rather than the base of the iceberg below.

Peter van den Engel

The reason for human cooperation is its evolutionary time/ energy equation, which is encapsulated by his physics: hand and fingers which create a faster time spin than four legged animals possess over/ and he became multy alternative relations with food and material possessions creating a larger brain, also needing to communicate the potentials within the group.
It is an economic relation with his environment.
Warfare only became relevant after agricultural groups became fully dependend of the land. Which also created states.
Energy recourses do not deplete the planet: food keeps growing endlessly/ however there is a balance to be respected. Fossile fuels would not destruct the planet because they are missing in the soil/ but because their usage creates new risks, which are actually primarely economic. As you stated fighting over recourses.
Capitalism first of all creates an unequallity within social society, because of its efficiency and money system/ which does not relate to ecological standards. It us a human group organization problem. Which is actually mathematical.

Bichara Sahely

I agree that the reason we are still around as a species is that in the main, we are predominantly cooperative, and we are in the main working within the constraints of the constructal thermodynamic laws as explained in the work of Prof Adrian Began.

From a mathematical point of view, life-destructive competition and cooperation like warfare does more harm than good and creates a larger energy and entropy bill than can be achieved with life-constructive competition and cooperation. It is the life-constructive activities of the household and the commons that has buffered our life-destructive tendencies and it is when the mathematical limits as given in the constructal thermodynamic laws are reached and the life-sustaining buffers are breached, when the total life-destruction of our economic, political and social systems will be complete.

We have to remember the dark side of the agricultural revolution (with the evolution up to our globalized financial plantations [nation-states] in a race to the bottom to liquidate the earth) is DEFORESTATION. Forests along with biodiversity of organisms in the soil, on the land and the bird species who live on the branches is a life-constructive cooperative system and function as an emergent whole as they evolve (w)holistically to minimize energy extraction and minimize entropy production by recycling material wastes as food so as to maximize energy throughput and to minimize the entropy bill. So it is an economy based on life capital that is sustainable and regenerative over generative time. And please do not forget the cycling of water, phosphorous, and nitrogen and the increased resilience and life-carrying capacity of the soils that allow them to persist over billions of years before in our hubris we think we can do better than nature.

So agriculture on the surface looks like a boom for humanity and has enabled us to literally move mountains and fill in valleys by the sudden extraction of energy via warfare via life-destructive technologies and practices. But this does not mean that life-destructive technology was the driving force for our ultrasociality. What we fail to see is the life-enabling aspects of the diversity and interconnected use of the applications of the evolution of energy, communication and transportation technologies that enabled us to “power, manage and move” more people in more complex societies over time in more energy efficient and less entropic productive ways.

Capitalism with its life-destructive competition and life-destructive collusions (via cooperative financial, military and political warfares) only benefits the minority of the ruling elite and the courtiers, scribes and retainers at the expense of the majority of humanity and the planet and is the de facto reason for our ecogenocidal trajectories.

I go into more details here:

and here:

William Berkson

Good points!


On Docial Responsibility;

“Milton Friedman, of course, always argued that economic agents should strictly follow their material interests; there is no place for “extra-rational motives” in business.”

Actually, in rereading his article:,

He seems to be arguing against people making decisions which harm others (tradeoffs) by making decisions in which they have no skin in the game. In other words, they lack reliable feedback mechanisms for the tradeoffs which they are making. He qualifies the statement that it doesn’t apply to charitable organizations (which should focus on the service they are built to address). He also qualifies that he understands that social pressure is such that he understands why they go beyond.

To demonstrate the dilemma in modern terms, should corporate executives use a share of profits to contribute to the Republican Party? The Democratic Party? Both? How is this money socially responsible? Should a corporate executive follow her conscience and contribute corporate funds to causes aimed at keeping out all immigrants? To fundamentalist religious causes? To organizations dedicated to abolishing all abortions? How should they determine how much of corporate profits are redirected to oppose immigration and abortion? Do the rest of us even agree the executives are the ones to decide whether these causes are even good, let alone preferable to higher wages or dividends or lower prices?

Friedman’s suggestion is they should stick to their core mission, to the barometers and feedback mechanisms which have been put in place to control and reward their performance. If stockholders and employees and customers want to give their money to these causes so be it, but it is more efficient and feedback mechanisms are best if the appropriate party makes the appropriate decision.

Honestly, I think he overstates his case a bit. But he does make an excellent contribution to the discussion. Remember social responsibility often really does come about at the cost of trade offs (more given to snuff out abortion, less given to employees or stockholders). When this occurs, the most noble course may be to stick to the mission and feedback mechanism of his or her role. We do not agree on what constitutes social responsibility let alone what it is worth in trade offs, and if the executive thinks we do, they are making an error.

“Most economists today feel the same way, although few are willing to state it as boldly as Friedman did.”

Citation? My guess is that some economists agree, some disagree, but many, like me thinks he makes a good point even if he overstates his case a bit. But I have no empirical data to support this assumption. Do you?


Of course not. Humans are motivated by all kinds of things, including respect, personal recognition, desire to support themselves and their families, concern about social issues, and so on and so on.

Friedman’s best argument isn’t that these other concerns don’t exist, but that the leader of a company is not the best person to decide how much (if any) of their profits should go to abolishing the freedom of a woman to have an abortion. They are spending other people’s money with extremely weak feedback mechanisms. We would be better off recommending the executives of Apple stick to their core mission rather than trying to decide whether women should have the right to control their own bodies.

Again, I think he overstates his case, but it is an excellent argument and one which has become famous and influential because it corrects for the sloppy assumption that executives should get involved in social responsibility (even though we are not in agreement what is socially responsible or how much should be spent on it vs something else of value).

Btw, the argument isn’t for “greed.” You are biasing the argument using Motte and Bailey rhetoric. The argument for self interest made over 250 years ago by a famous Scottish moral philosopher and since elaborated was that, if properly designed, institutions and incentives can be built where an actor can attend to their own interests and local knowledge by serving others interests in such a way that we as a group advance as if by an “invisible hand.” It one of the essential insights of the Scottish and English Enlightenment and has since been applied to representative government, the scientific method, organizational management and markets.

Rod Watkins

Okay, so Friedman thought they should “stick to their core mission,” which I take to mean avoid social causes. And yet a core component of Freidman’s edict is that managers should serve the interests shareholders. So what should companies do if 90% of their customers oppose abortion and shareholders would be served by acquiescing to their beliefs?


Even if 90% of customers, employees and stockholders did believe abortion is immoral, the executive still does not know how much they are willing to pay out of their costs wage or return to stamp out a woman’s right to choose. The key terms are tradeoffs and feedback. The executive isn’t in a good place to judge either.

How does the executive know 90% want this? How does he know how much they want it and are willing to sacrifice to get it? What about the 10% who don’t want it? What if the higher price charged and the lower wages paid(trade offs!) leads to customers buying (unwittingly) from the company which opposes their view, or getting a higher paying job from this socially “irresponsible” company?

The most efficient course is for the executive to stick to their core mission using the barometers and feedback mechanisms of that job. If growth and profit are optimized within the rules and broad social values of society (something Friedman also stresses), then the customers can choose to donate whatever amount of the money they save to whatever cause they believe is most worthy, the same goes for employees and stockholders.

It is an extremely good argument, though as with all arguments, can be taken too far.


On your broader article:

I will let you and Branko argue over his interpretation of markets. For what little it is worth, I doubt I agree completely with either of you.

I will add though that I fail to see how this article addresses that “capitalism destroys cooperation.” Do you mean to say, Branko’s view (or Friedman’s?) of markets is inconsistent with cooperation? Perhaps you will address this in the next post, but so far the title and the arguments are not seeming to me to match up (correct me if I am missing something).

I certainly agree that a corporation needs more of a focus and a mission than “let’s make money.” I never worked for a corporation that did not have a core mission, agreed upon norms and stated values to help guide policy and strategy. Indeed, I helped design or revise these corporate missions and values several times in my career.

I also agree with the value of a broad and diverse aggregation of specialists in knowledge and skills. I’d be careful about calling this “diversity” though as that isn’t how this term is used in conventional discussion anymore.

I also agree with the need for extensive habits, policies, mores and shared values for the creation of an environment of trust.

When you put all this together, I need to ask if you think Friedman or most economists disagree with the points from Rainforest? Or are you just in a public debate with Branko?

Seems to me that, properly considered, Silicon Valley is the embodiment of modern capitalism. They have created cooperative (and CONSTRUCTIVELY COMPETITIVE) networks of billions of people and billions in capital investment across the globe. Capitalism is the most extensive network of Ultrasociety in existence.

Sean Cox

I’d be curious to see how Peter Turchin would answer the question posed by the title. My gut reaction was to expect that Peter was arguing that capitalism, typified by Branko’s reported views (which is a position commonly used as a strawman by anti-capitalists), was not as good a system as unspecified non-capitalism. (Non-capitalism, because it wasn’t in line with Branko’s views.) And, of course, that is how I read it, and I was very disappointed in the end by the apparent abuse of capitalism.

This is because, of course, both views are models of capitalism. I sat down to critique this approach and concluded that the analysis had proven that capitalism favors a degree of cooperative interest over pure material self-interest (greed), because, under capitalism, Peter has shown, that the greedy are less competitive. So, I went back and reread the piece looking for the smoking gun that Peter had mistaken the non-Branko view and non-capitalist, and came up empty-handed.

I think I have to conclude that Peter intended to communicate that the answer to his question is “no, capitalism does not destroy cooperation, but positively rewards it and hence, fosters it.” He didn’t write a very clear conclusion that addressed his question directly, and he wasn’t clear about the fact that he was comparing different behaviors within capitalism to show how they compete with each other (whereas I had first imagined that he was blundered in pretending to set up non-capitalism against a capitalist straw man), but I think, that if he is as rational as I usually find him to be, that this was probably his intention.


Good points, I too assume Turchin sees capitalism as the greatest cooperative endeavor in history. I too am assuming he is actually trying to say that the way Branko defines capitalism would be counterproductive to cooperation in practice.

I’ve already pointed out that if one actually reads Friedman’s full article (see link above), that Friedman is arguing FOR improved cooperative efficiency by recommending executives stick to their core mission and the institutional feedback mechanisms available to them, thus allowing customers, employees and stockholders, who are in a much, much better position to know their personal values and goals and tradeoffs to decide how to direct funds to various (and potentially contradictory) social responsibility desires.


A few thoughts-

In my view the distinction between “capitalism” and “commerce” is overdrawn. The reason the pace of technological development has been so much more rapid in recent times is because as time goes on, accumulated knowledge tends to make subsequent advancement easier, and because the growth of productivity and literacy made it possible for society to support larger numbers of technical specialists. The difference is quantitative, not qualitative.

I agree that Hwang and Horowitt discuss a wide variety of Silicon Valley-esque situations, to such an extent that their findings shouldn’t be thought of as merely anecdotal. However, the importance of such start-ups as a whole to the portion of new technology is somewhat unclear. I can think of many examples (i.e. ballistic rockets in Hitler’s Germany, satellites in Soviet Russia, the Internet in the US) which were developed directly by governments. So it would be nice to have some data on what proportion of developments were created by start-ups, established firms, and governments.

You (and Hwang and Horowitt) appear to assume that someone whose motivation is solely monetary must also be short-sighted. If it is indeed the case that “Predatory, super-competitive individuals and firms are eliminated”, than it is not really in the interest even of someone motivated completely by game theoretical considerations to operate a firm in such a manner.


rain forests are dying daily at the hands of extractive capitalists, that the law of the jungle…

steven t johnson

It shouldn’t be a surprise that managers, executives, directors, major stockholders have interests other than profit maximization, or even market share maximization. The political investments of large corporations and hugely wealthy individuals have notoriously not been amenable to a narrow economic cost/benefit analysis. And, it is notorious that voting doesn’t follow a simple cost/benefit calculus either.

Tullock’s so-called paradox, I think, is largely a strawman due to the ideological approach of public choice economics. The ideology is partly this very notion that economic actors are describable by a kind of linear profit function. (The rest appears to be the wish to rule out discussion of other values, wishful thinking that people really are that mercenary. Blaming human nature instead of actual choices, or even worse, bad sociopolitical institutions and policies, rules out reform. And pacifist piety rules out revolution.)

But the ability of orthodox economists, political scientists, etc. to be surprised by reality is a criterion of success, if obscurantism is the real job of most academics, no? At any rate, I do want to suggest that even if you acknowledge simple reality, that the economically powerful (whether by dint of personal wealth or institutional position,) do indeed operate according to many, many non-financial factors, I’m not at all sure that this is such grounds for optimism. Consider television and movies. The presence of non-economic factors explains why most producers don’t produce pornography, to be sure, despite relatively low costs and high returns. But, the kinds of respectable productions still must pass the non-economic standards of the first audience, the producers themselves.

I suggest that there are pervasive and profound effects on cultural artifacts, many highly negative, There is a constant misrepresentation of society. There is a constant presumption of basic ideological notions useful to the wealthy but otherwise harmful. Sometimes the ideas promulgated are grossly dishonest. I was watching an old episode of a TV series from FX, called Tyrant, where the hero solemnly tells the villain that the West won’t allow him to get away with his tyranny. His example? The NATO attack on Libya because Qaddafi was going to slaughter Benghazi! A TV series that had a character announce that Qaddafi was targeted because he was too independent wouldn’t even have made it onto a cable series.

To put it another way, I predict that Daenerys Targaryen will be revealed to be a hideous monster whose death is a glorious climax of justice precisely because the character overthrew not just a government, but a whole class of property owners. And I think it’s because the producers have their own non-economic agenda, which isn’t limited to the logic of the plot, or even the satisfaction of the audience at the conclusion.

Peter van den Engel

Cooperation and competition are both actors which operate on their levels. Cooperation has already decided on its level of agreed efficiency/ and competition is just centralized around that issue because there are opposite opinions about urgencies.
Therefore there is no absolute argument pro or contra one or the other. Athough in general human group functioning is about cooperation.

The overall general mistake which is made in the economic discussion is that it would depend on political opinion about what type of cooperation is prefered. Because it depends on system functioning; which is natural physics; and the understanding of that mechanism.

In human evolution money was created to function as a self determining (market, invisible hand) energy information system for the group, based on its functioning regarding labor, over production and the thermal energy needs (shortiges) of the group which it met.

However money means two things at the same time, which are opposite: the efficiency of labor/ and the efficiency of income for consumption. The first should use minimal energy and time/ the second wants to be expansive: the more you get, the better it is.
It also explaines this primarily functions on individual level, so it is not a group function anymore. It is contrary to itself.
However overall it will function well as long as not all thermal shortiges for the group are not met.
Note that individual money wealth suggests it still is about the general law to prevent shortiges/ while as related to its over production this is definitely not an individual functioning, so it provides false information on that level.

If you compare the intrinsic opposition within the system to its evolution, it becomes clear that the first expansion of labor distribution also benefits individual income; inflating its labor costs/ but the second level of its evolution (creative destruction) avoids all human labor and leads to outsourcing (low wages), automation and robotisation, which is remarkably parallel to technological evolution (silicon valley).
So therefore the alledged proposition of endless (gdp) growth is directly opposite to its real evolution.
Conclusion: economists and politicians are idiots. By thinking they are still in the first evolutionary stage.

This could be a lot of fun watching it for a bystander or an extraterrestrial/ however it also involves a risk: it will make cooperations fall apart and prevent the progression (growth, expansion) of collaborative human evolution.
This time nature will not decide for us/ we will have to that ourselves. It is not a self deciding market system anymore/ although at the same time it still is, but going in the wrong direction.


@Silicon Valley:

I’m became very critical of Musk lately, specially since he’s becoming more and more unhinged in annoucing nonsense to be prasied again by the media as a genius and get free advertisement by them.

There are actually already people making comparisons to Elisabeth Holmes and Theranos. And we know how that ended. I highly recommend to watch this short video.

Peter van den Engel

In response to Bichara

In fact humanity has beaten nature in the energy/ time relationship as thermal, leaving it with a much wider free time space than any animal before and possessing over a much larger brain.
You should understand the energy time equation, since it is quantum mechanics means a lot more that just a thermal energy relationship with its typical entropy.
Although it was the first reason for material (food, energy) economy biological life created in the arrow of time.
Consider by eating in twenty minutes it leaves more than 5 hours of energy and free time space. It is an extremely inverted relation in comparison to thermal entropy.
It also means a lot more for human reasoning, because it projects bigger potentials into its future.
Apart from the thermal theory does not explain at the same time opposite relations the energy system has.
So, yes it is a very relevant theory/ but also very incomplete.

The notion you get from economy and warfare is actually energy information the money system created, which is an asynchronicity by itself/ and does not stand for potential human reasoning.
Because the public good, or land creates a much greater money relation (capital) for the receiver, it makes him think he is fylly responsible and in controle (he can buy any labor time through the suggested eternal shortiges the money slave system simulates from his people)/ while it actually does not represent anything else but the free time space overproducing labor created in the consumer group. Therefore the relation is in democratic terms false and even irrelevant/ athough the capital owner has the most.knowledge in creating efficient labor. That’s why communism did not work.
I agree warfare is an inefficient entropy system/ but you should realise that because of the quantum relation there is not just one level at play. At the same time war also distributed knowledge in other cultures and believe systems like religion. It is not relevant the Romans lost their empire in the end/ but what they did before they lost it.

Also making a direct connection between economy and warfare creates a bias, since trade is more relevant to it.

Concluding: the only way to reach a better evolutionary equation for humanity which is persued by unequallities (also in the technical natural physics equations themselves), is to adapt his money system into a more intelligent one. Which is parallel to a better relation with his natural environment ecologists are arguing for/ but portrays a very different problem.

Bichara Sahely

Thanks Peter.

What I have discovered very recently is that our life-views may be outdated and is due for an upgrade. It is like a second-Copernican revolution is screaming to be born, based now on life-value. Yes, money which is a social construct was based on the mechanics of a reductive atomistic equilibrium science that is no longer fit for purpose as basing any model on equilibrium dynamics means “death”.

I agree that it has to be based on something more fundamental, and the best that I have found so far is LaViolette’s subquantum kinetics of a transmuting ether, which is able to explain many of the anomalies in quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is based on Turing’s reaction-diffusion ideas of chemical morphogenesis, and produces fractal levels of emergent organizations that produce elements that are based on nonequilibrium solitonic dissipative structures.

Unfortunately, we created and grafted our money system on this natural system, and created a monopolistic monocultural means of exchange and false-store of value, structurally coupled all of our other social constructs in service to this money system, and bootstrapped it all, without the life-base, which was relegated from the foreground to the background as externalities in the system. Hence the life-blindness of all of our higher theories of thought and social and nature engagements and the one way degenerative trends we see in our midst.

So our money systems would have to be redesigned on life-centered principles like subsidiarity and life-grounded/bottom up. Bernard Lietear et all has already worked out the mathematics for such a monetary and fiscal system including local and complementary currencies.

In order to avoid extremes of inequalities and inefficiencies, one would also have to base our money system, in addition to life-valued principles, criteria and measures, also on symmetry principles, which Rowland’s has done and has reformulated his physical models on nilipotent concepts. He has convincingly, for me at least, shown how we can understand our world based on the principles of zero totality that evolves to infinite differentiability, where we can maximize individual autonomic functionality within a global coherent system. Our money system in not life-coherent, hence the preventable and unnecessary suffering we see today, which would only get worse if we don’t transform all of our rules of engagements based on the rule of life-protective and life-generating principles.

So our models of the world are incomplete and based on reductionist science and religions and have created a fake hypercompetitive mentality based on atomistic self-maximization, which is irrational as it is the global driver of all of our ecogenocidal proclivities.

So to answer Truchin’s question. Yes (money-valued) capitalism destroys cooperation by its life-irrational and life-dysfunctional design. Resetting and rebasing and regrounding our money system on life-enabling cooperation and life-enabling competition is the answer for our social, economic, financial and political transformation.

If only we had life-valued technocrats advising our life-blind policy makers in stewarding us also from the top-down in these endeavors……

Here are the links to the ideas above which may help you and others who are interested in these latest developments.

Peter van den Engel

Thanks Bichara.

Fractal levels of emergent organizations actually means free not yet (not anymore) in a time spin (gravity) involved energy, form a natural physics point of view.
The money system which has evolved was directly connected to the thermal energy relation in time life has – and so was efficient in that sense, even on the knowledge level.
However when these shortages are met, it becomes irrelevant as central self organizing quantum mechanism. Note it is not a contra life mechanism.

All you need to do for the next emergent life level to evolve is recognize its orevious closed energy level, which is material economy related to thermal laws (= basic consumption level – ‘income’)/ instead of keeping the previous model as centralized organization system, although this appears to be a market.
Because it acts like a market, it suggests a free emerging model/ but it is not. It is based on a centralized singular energy principle.

Because of the asynchronicity the system itself creates know, it is inevitable there will be social, political and economical counter reactions, afirming it.
So in a relative sense it will evolve to the next level by itself/ however the longer you wait it will get more destructive, with its own consequences.

Right now it also involves the knowledge level, since bureaucracies are feeding their information to mass media via press agencies, only involving the singular information level which is not life enhancing as you said/ but means “death”, although this should be read as a relative energy level and not a literal.

Fortunately at the same time the alternative system (the internet) is evolving already and represents the emergent knowledge level which is life enhancing and will in time (hopefully) be able to contstruct alternatives, like also a better money system.
Which evolution is than related ro direct democracy and/ or the recognition of elites understanding the problem.

Bichara Sahely

Thanks Peter. You have raised several issues.

1. “Fractal levels of emergent organizations actually means free not yet (not anymore) in a time spin (gravity) involved energy, form a natural physics point of view.
The money system which has evolved was directly connected to the thermal energy relation in time life has – and so was efficient in that sense, even on the knowledge level.
However when these shortages are met, it becomes irrelevant as central self organizing quantum mechanism. Note it is not a contra life mechanism.”

I agree, but we have to work within the constraints of the constructal thermodynamic laws as all open solitionic dissipitative system, be it closed (thermal, adiabatic) versus open (quantum mechanical, subquantum kinetic “transmuting ether/ZPE/Akashic field/quantum vaccuum/cosmic plenum) have to at each level of self-organizion satisfy the zero totality/symmetry principle. So in effect each level of organisaion is in effect a Singularity from the level of the elementary particle up to the levels of cycling universes within the meta-universe and beyond.

Buth there is a mechanism to bridge the singularity boundaries to connect each level of organisation inclusive of life. I lay this out here in these blog articles:

2. “Because of the asynchronicity the system itself creates know, it is inevitable there will be social, political and economical counter reactions, afirming it.
So in a relative sense it will evolve to the next level by itself/ however the longer you wait it will get more destructive, with its own consequences.
Right now it also involves the knowledge level, since bureaucracies are feeding their information to mass media via press agencies, only involving the singular information level which is not life enhancing as you said/ but means “death”, although this should be read as a relative energy level and not a literal.
Fortunately at the same time the alternative system (the internet) is evolving already and represents the emergent knowledge level which is life enhancing and will in time (hopefully) be able to contstruct alternatives, like also a better money system.
Which evolution is than related ro direct democracy and/ or the recognition of elites understanding the problem.”

Yes, we are all victims of our ignorance of a more complete life-valued wordview, including the elites in all spheres of concern and influence, including in academia, economics and politics, and their irrational actions is a manifesation of this ignorance.

As explained here we can break out this invisible prison of our life-blind ignorance.

” Knowledge Wins in the End, but Not Until It is Known

Societies have thus been everywhere ‘restructured’ as subordinate functions to the inexorable transformation of humanity and the world into ever more private commodities and profits. This mutant value system is malignant to the marrow with no consciousness of its derangement or ill consequences. It is taboo to recognize what is everywhere confirmed – deregulated borderless money sequences multiplying themselves by life-blind models, treaties and wars through all that exists on earth whatever their destruction of human and ecological life systems.

Alarm at the growing deadly symptoms increases across thoughtful people, but without decoding connection. Top-down embargo on any other economic view or reality – including by NATO wars – suppresses alternative at every level. Policies of ‘solution’ only extend the pathogenic system further. Even as the reversal of life evolution on earth becomes undeniable under the global rule of private money-sequence multiplication, life-coherent restructuring is anathema and prohibited a-priori by the unexamined value system. It all seems hopeless, but knowledge wins in the end if not suffocated. Behind every step of degeneration lie failures of social knowledge:

(1) failure to diagnose the regulating value mechanism at work;
(2) failure to connect across the domains of life despoliation as predictable from the system’s blind money-demand multiplications;
(3) failure to define or demand any public policies against its despoiling and devouring life support systems with the public increasingly financing the out-of-control feeding cycles;
(4) failure to recognise any life-value principle or ground of the real economy itself.”

Arturo Rodríguez Mesa

There are experiments about that? Could a researcher improve the functioning of a company? There are examples about that?

Peter van den Engel


Aha, I expected this as soon as I read the word symmetry.
The point is our physical reality is an asymmetrical symmetry, that’s why it cannot be explained by symmetry.
There are levels of relative symmetry involved in it, with always open end quantum relations.
Especially life.

As far as symmetry is concerned for example economy (accountancy) reasons supply and demand represent a closed (energy/ money) system, as well as the fiscal system/ while both use very asymmetric logic = illogic in their system.

The supposed system (accountancy) symmetry results in asymmetry passed along untill it results in a living asynchronicity.
Meaning an inefficient economy (culture) which at some point will disclose itself.

It’s true monolith value systems are imposing their rules (deaf and blind) on the rest of the bottom pyramid/ but they don’t escape the asynchronicity.
In fact with a recalibration of the money system they too would be much better off. It would allow all sorts if new expansion (growth if you like).
That’s why I am not as pessimistic as you are. What is unknown can be learned.

The current trade war between the US and China for instance (which is an effect of fiscal disbalance) of course will spill over and apart from that result in inflating costs of living, less global trade between China and US, therefore a weaker dollar with further inflation as a result, which will lead to social and economical infringement: resistance breaking out.
It is not nothing should be done about it/ but this is just one example of monolith misunderstanding of the problem.


One of the interior questions I have about capitalism is how scalable it is. If we look at the Robber Barons, you have an expansion of industry on a national-scale, which is then ultimately regulated on a national scale in the early 20th Century. Further, the Robber Barons ended up involved in philanthropy projects addressed to the national populations.

One of the advantages of global capitalism is that businesses can avoid the regulatory burden through an international race to the bottom, at the expense of labor and environmental laws. There seems to be no way to regulate it, short of international political institutions, and there is a fundamental lack of international social cohesion which would make such institutions feasible. Thus, the monster seems to be in control and proceeding with a short-term strategy that will in the long-term potentially lead to ecological disaster and political instability–thereby killing the monster but taking how many with it?


It seems to me realistically, given the nature of the world today, the only way to create a sustainable capitalism would be to limit its scale to national political blocks, or international markets with uniform regulatory frameworks, enforcement and transparency (the opposite of globalism, which is about pushing production and pollution to developing nations lacking at least one of the three: regulation, enforcement and transparency).

Peter van den Engel

Lower wages will always keep their attractiveness, you don’t own the production and they also have a right to develop their own material economy. You cannot scale it.

Besides the actual general core issue is the efficiency of thermal energy related shortages as an economy represents a passed singularity at this stage of human evolution.
Capitalism in that sense has become irrelevant/ although as owner of the money system it still is obliged and best equiped to adapt it for allowing the next evolution: which is human collective knowledge and not thermal shortages.

The elsewhere proposed (non competitive?) cooperation within the current system not adapting it is quite silly, if I may say so.
Technological evolution in experimenting within labor cooperations is parallel to such evolutions as they have always occurred in material economy/ although perhaps not always that cooperative.
To think this offers a new alternative is a mere illusion as well.

  1. Home
  2. /
  3. Cliodynamica
  4. /
  5. Regular Posts
  6. /
  7. Does Capitalism Destroy Cooperation?

© Peter Turchin 2023 All rights reserved

Privacy Policy