Tuesday, April 7, 2009

When Academic Reading And Pleasure Reading Mix...

I have been reading the book A General Theory of Competition around the Asimov Foundation series. I noticed something as I was reading Foundation And Earth, where the concept of "Galaxia" is discussed. The idea of all parts of the galaxy working together for to remove waste and improve the whole. That theory sounds somewhat like an idealized socialism, but it mostly reminded me of the theory of perfect competition, which is all through the first book I mentioned. The idea is that the market reacts to any changes with minimal costs related to changing the equilibrium price of the market.

Imagine, for instance, that the market being discussed was corn. If the market responds perfectly, then when a late freeze destroys a large percentage of a given area's crops, the equilibrium price would move rapidly - if not automatically - to a higher price given the decreased supply and continued demand. That tends to happen in commodities markets like produce where products are generally the same. If, however, the market being discussed were the automobile market, or the small sedan market (a lot of discussions could be brought up about how a market is defined), then how might news of a strike at one automaker's facility effect that price? It is hard to believe that it would respond rapidly in some obvious way. The information is fairly ambiguous, for one thing. The problem, though, is if it's not even clear HOW a market should react, how can we believe it will react immediately without costs? Will there not be a momentary confusion?

And that brings me back to how I saw Galaxia tied in. If society truly knew what was "best" and everyone reacted accordingly, that might mimic perfect competition. The problem, though, is that what is "best" is never that clear. As such, the expectation of sacrifice in a concept like Galaxia, or in socialism, ignores human nature. In Galaxia, everything (humans, animals, plants, even non-living things) communicates to convey all that is known by the whole so that some equilibrium state can be met, which sounds wonderful until it is actually applied. Even if people know that someone else would benefit more from their possessions than they would themselves, it is hard to imagine most people simply giving up what they own. A lot of people share with the less fortunate, and I'm all for doing just that, but the idea that everyone must do what is best for everyone... it simply doesn't pan out.

This post is quickly spiraling out of control, I can see. I'm simply trying to formulate my opinion about these ideas in practice. I have trouble believing humanity - at least in this life - could ever approach something so close to Galaxia, or a perfectly competitive marketplace in all ways, or a socialistically ideal state. I also have trouble seeing that approaching those - not even achieving, but simply trying to get there - would actually be a good thing. What I see in those ideas is stagnation. If no one is trying to get ahead, then who is trying to improve things? Who is bringing about transformative change for the better if everyone already believes they are living in what is "best"? And that is what it all comes down to: I have trouble believing a society run by mankind that is all for the "common good" will ever work - nor should it. Better that we communicate ineffectively, struggle, obfuscate, strive, persevere, share, judge, help, learn, grow, and generally find our own way in the world.

-- Robert


le35 said...

What about on a small scale, such as each family? What if a family ran for what is best as a whole instead of just each for himself?

Robert said...

I am writing a full response to this solid point rather than relegating my reply to a comment.