At the beginning of the 2006 American film “idiocracy”, which was not very successful, the viewer gets to know Trevor and Carol, a couple of highly intelligent academics of the early 21st century. They state that the decision to get children is such an important one, that you must not rush into it. You have to wait for the right time, which is not now.
These two prototypes of modern academics are in the next scene compared to Clevon, whose wife Trish just states to be pregnant again, which makes Clevon curse and stamp his beer bottle on the table. He already has „too many damn kids“ and thought she was on the pill, but probably he had confused her with Britney. In raging jealousy Trish throws a pan after him. In the corner, Clevon’s offspring are displayed in a family tree showing 4 children with Trish and one with Britney
Back to Trevor and Carol. Five years older than before, they again calmly sit on their well maintained livingroom sofa and head-shakingly state that at the moment they can not have kids, not with the current market-situation. Meanwhile, Clevon’s wife Trish has a quarrel with her pregnant neighbour with beer bottles flying, and the loud chaos of the unordered lower-class family unfolding.
Back to Trevor and Carol. Again, five years older older than before, they again calmly sit on their well maintained livingroom sofa and Carol states that they finally decided to have kids, however this does not seem to work out well, probably due to the low quality of Trevor’s sperms. Trevor apologetically shrugs and complainingly asks if Carol’s remark is helping.
Finally, a visibly aged Carol has a sad solo-appearance, in which she announces that Trevor has passed away from a heart attack while masturbating for in vitro fertilization. However, she has some eggs frozen away, and as soon the right man comes along…..fingers crossed. By now, the family tree of Clevon’s offspring covers the entire cinema screen.
This 2-minute sequence at the beginning of the film Idiocracy shall illustrate, that human evolution does not automatically reward intelligence. Without natural selection pressure, evolution simply rewards those who reproduce most, which makes the intelligent become a rare species. After the monstrous crimes that Social Darwinism and Eugenics had caused in the 20th century, it is however utterly delicate to point out that mechanisms of natural selection also act on Homos sapiens.
Switching off natural selection or modifying selection criteria (in the case of Idiocracy favouring those with reduced cognitive capabilities who reproduce most) may not remain without consequences over generations. Should mankind try to intervene into its own evolution, after all?
Mechanisms of selection in economy and trade
The mechanisms of natural selection in evolutionary biology find their correspondence in economy in competitive selection of business enterprises. Single actors in a competition-based economy carry a high risk to fail, which however minimizes the risk of failure for the corresponding branch of the economy. For systems which are not fragile, Nassim Taleb coined the term “antifragile”. Gastronomy may serve as an example for an antifragile branch of the economy. A single reastaurant enterprise is fragile and may quickly fail if it fails to attract clients. At the same time, one finds a good overall supply of restaurants in cities such as Hamburg. These compete with each other, which leads to a broad spectrum of restaurants with diverse kind of food and atmosphere. Although the single individual restaurant enterprise is fragile and might fail, the entity of restaurants, the “restaurant system”, appears very antifragile (1).
Market and market mechanisms with their selection mechanisms are thus an essential element of human trade interactions. Entirely free and uncontrolled markets (unleashed markets) however are also free of any ethical or moral judgement. If two market players compete, the one who makes more profit will prevail.
If the product brought to the market is good or bad for society, in principle does not play a role. The economist Catherine Austin Fitts gave an illustrative example by comparing two tradesmen in America in the late 1940s. Both are expecting the arrival of a delivery at the docks of New Orleans. Sam trades sugar from Latin America that he refines and sells to wholesale merchants with 30% profit. After substracting costs for farming, transport and processing, Sam makes 10% profit. Dave works with a different agricultural product, for which he also imports raw materials, processes them and sells them to wholesale merchants. Dave, however, earns 50-times more for his upgraded product, cocaine. Certainly, Dave also has expenses for farming, transport, bribes and radar-equipment for circumventing coast guards. After subtracting costs from gains, Dave earns around 100-times more than Sam with each delivery. To get a feeling for the implications of these profit differences, one only has to answer to the following questions just using common sense:
Who is better in business? Sam or Dave?
Who is favoured by local bancs? Sam or Dave?
Who donates more to politicians and welfare? Sam or Dave?
Who can afford better lawyers? Sam or Dave?
Who could some day buy the company of the other? Sam or Dave?
Who could count on support from bankers and politicians when swallowing the other’s company? Sam or Dave?
Who pays more salaries of experts, opinion-makers and media-representatives? Sam or Dave?
Which business will thrive, if such developments act over decenies with compound interest effects and which business will consequently gain more influence on society? Catherine Austin Fitts, who came up with this example, explicitly appeals not to seek guidance from experts or the media when answering these questions, but only to follow your own intuition (2).
Which motivation states and governments have to forbid drugs, could also cater for an interesting discussion, however this would lead us too far away from the actual topic of this book. Here, we make do with pointing out the role opium played in the colonial suppression of China under the British Crown, or the British East India Company, to be more precise. In Bengal (India) opium was grown on large scale using slave labour and exported to China by the English in order to buy Chinese silk, spices and tea. As long as opium was not more than a normal mean of payment or a bartering good, prices for opium remained on a normal level. Opium drove a lot of Chinese people into addiction and the Chinese raised import taxes on opium in order to protect themselves from the colonial opium. Finaly the Chinese emperor entirely prohibited the import of opium and Chinese custom officers destroyed incoming deliveries of opium. This led to an increase in illegal imports that even became much more profitable as the prices for (illegal) opium were much higher. The poppy plant providing for the raw opium, however had not become more precious. Not before the prohibition prices increased. Finaly the Brits send gun boats to China opening the “Opium war” of 1839. After 3 years of war the Chinese subdued.
One could object that drug trade per se does not have to be unmoral or unethical and that sugar consumed in high amounts also impairs health. Only the fact that legislators banned certain mind-altering drugs, but not sugar, made drug-trade such a criminal (but at the same time very lucrative) business. Profit margins in the drug business would not be that high, if it was legal. But let us simply imagine, Dave was an arms dealer, who fuels murderous wars and thus becomes rich and powerful.
Apparently in an unleashed competition, unscrupulousness is a a competitive advantage. If, as in Idiocracy, people with low intelligence reproduce stronger and the economy favours reckless people, in the long run, mankind, will become rather stupid with reckless-unscrupulous people in positions of power. Not a very nice prospect.
Evolutionary selection-mechanisms of free markets lead to inceasing efficiency, when it comes to accumulation of capital. Efficient processes imply an optimized return of investement, meaning highest possible profits at the lowest possible effort. Chains of delivery are coordinated in a way, that a component is delivered to immediately being used, processed and built in, thus minimizing the storage capacity, storage time and storage costs (“Just in time capitalism”). Everything that causes unnecessary costs is being eliminated by optimization. This also applies for planning and use of personnel. An economy that selects for enterprises that pursue the least possible effort to generate profit has no reserve capacity. In the health sector a lack of reserve capacities surfaces if an epidemic occurs. By reducing overcapacities and merging of hospitals, private hospital companies made health care a profit generating endeavour. In normal mode they provide health care and pocket the profits (in contrast to public hospitals, which were planned along requirements of the population). If an epidemic (or the flu season) increases the needs for hospital capacities, the disadvantages of an efficiency-optimised health system becomes apparent: Hardly any reserve capacities, as these are cost-inefficient in normal mode and only cause costs. However, one should think that from the hospital operator’s point of view, cost efficiency should be given also during an epidemic. Actually, the cost efficiency should now even be increased as capacities (e.g. respirators) are used on a maximum level, which sounds lucrative from an economic point of view. Ironically the provision of intensive care capacities in expectation of a pandemic wave in many countries led to a reduction of normal standard health care with economic losses due to unused hospital beds and collateral morbidity and mortality, for example due to canceled medical procedures. The worldwide issued lockdowns and freedom restrictions due to COVID-19 especially damaged small and medium sized enterprises, which can be regarded as the backbone of a healthy economy that serves the society. At the same time international cooperations and monopolists increased their market power.
Moreover, less and less economic transactions take place without digital interface. In cashless payments a digital interface between the humans involved in the transaction already exists. With the raising importance of delivery services, the digital interface also intervenes in the hand-over of the purchased good. Nevertheless, the human sphere and the machine world are still clearly separated. Concerns about data that were generated in the digital sphere (still) refer to data utilization by humans or networks of humans. As long as abuse of power is carried out by humans over humans, machines remain means for ends. Once machines develop their own ends out of their own intrinsic motivation a shift of paradigms takes place.