Does Capitalism Kill Cooperation?

Yves here. A minor quibble. While this post provides grist for discussion about the importance of cooperation, anyone who treats venture-capital-backed companies as representative of entrepreneurship needs to recalibrate. Only about 1% of all companies are VC funded. New ventures are typically funded bysavings, borrowing (vendor finance at best but credit cards are way more common), and friends and family. Entrepreneurship expert Amar Bhide studied Inc. 500 companies over many years, and ascertained that even among these high fliers, only 25% had gotten funding from VC firms.

That’s before you start looking into how much of what Silicon Valley has been doing over the last decade is really innovative. Apps? Really? Marianna Mazzucato in her book The Entrepreneurial State describes how much innovation, particularly on breakthrough technologies, is government funded, and how contrary to popular perception, the way agencies work with universities and key private sectors players is dynamic. So while Turchin’s conclusions may be valid, he’s still working from a sample that may not be as representative as he contends.

By Peter Turchin, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Connecticut and Vice President of the Evolution Institute. He is author of Ages of Discord. Web site: @Peter_Turchin Originally published at Peter Turchin’s blog; cross posted from Evonomics

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.

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  1. Summer

    “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.”

    Whew. Glad to know there was no interest in power.

    1. Oh

      From the biography of Steve Jobs it’s quite clear he was motivated more by money than anything else; he used people around him to enrich himself. He had Apple backdate options so he could get more money.

      As for Musk, we know that he leaches on government contracts, subsidies, tax breaks and infrastructure to maximize his wealth. All his startups have highly leveraged these. Why is the writer quoted in this article being so kind to these two entrepreneurs?

      1. a different chris

        Yes the Jobs thing threw me quite a bit.

        But remember in the background there was also Steve Wozniak, and he’s a totally different kettle of fish. I think the thing we can as usual learn from history is that we can never learn from history.

        I would though, tend to agree that “it’s not totally or even mostly greed and power” thing is quite true. If you are in the oil bidness and worth a few 100 million, you are never, ever going to go into the sofa business even if you are positive it will make you a multi-millionaire. You aren’t a sofa maker. You won’t even “diversify” unless under intense family pressure. You do what you do, the money is just a marker in your own group’s game.

        Sigh. Thus the problem we have getting them to stop drilling or fracking or Walmarting for that matter. It’s emotional for them.

      2. Adam Eran

        NC tends to judge Elon harshly. And Steve Jobs! What a great name! His name is “Jobs!”…

        I’ve read that both Walt Disney and Henry Ford filed for bankruptcy seven times. Ford was a notorious anti-semite, reviving the Czarist forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion…not to mention publishing an antisemitic magazine.

        These people are messed up. Another example: Nicola Tesla was a genius, but certifiable, at least in his later years.

        I don’t know whether market capitalism leads to the mental state, or the crazies rise to the top, but I wouldn’t expect too much sanity from the leaders of such enterprises… Not to say the lefties were any saner (Stalin, Mao, etc.). Power not only corrupts, it makes people crazy.

        1. c_heale

          From his behavior, Elon definitely seems messed up. And from what I know of Steve Jobs (not much), he seems like a really unpleasant character.

  2. Sol

    Competition vs cooperation. I’ve been mulling this theory for months. This sort of serendipitous syncing keeps happening often enough that I begin to wonder whether human thought, progress, and language itself follows an infectious disease model, and no one person can ever truly “invent” new thinkings. There are patient zeroes all over the place.

    But on to competition. Capitalism requires it as a system check; without competition, it descends into untrammelled short-term thinking which can’t compete at all. Unfortunately for capitalism, one of the most successful competitive strategies is to first identify any player who might be able to best you in a fair fight, and get rid of those people as soon as possible.

    Capitalism despises merit, which might interfere with capital, including social capital.

    Cooperation is a different – and I suspect, more difficult – game. It is the antithesis of corruption and tribalism, and is destroyed by these things as much as capitalism is destroyed through loss of competition.

    I’ve been working on my theories for some time, guys, and I’m sorry except increasingly i suspect the answer is we will have to learn how to get along with each other.

    Ha. Sigh.

    1. Mel

      On his blog David Brin, frequently, recommends competition as a major cure for America’s woes. (I’m ultimately not one of them, but the blog and the commentariat are pretty interesting.)
      He motivated me to split the idea of competition two ways.
      Theres emulation: “I can do that too.”
      Then conflict: “I will supplant them in doing that.”
      Emulation looks like causing growth, variety, wealth.
      Conflict looks like creating zero-sum, or worse, negative-sum games, ultimately making the players poorer.

      1. Sol

        Oh, that’s fantastic. That’s thought-provoking, and you are delightful for giving me new things to think about, thank you.

        Emulation vs conflict. Kind of like how Yves or Lambert can start us off with something fantastic, and then we run with it and explore it in the comments. That would be emulation, and thus add value through competition which is not in conflict, is that the thinking?

    2. L

      I agree with you that it is a knotty problem but I don’t see how cooperation is necessarily the antithesis of corruption or tribalism. Corruption is, by definition, one group cooperating illicitly against others to profit be they a family using nepotism and dubious foundations to get ahead or just a corrupt official and a businessperson taking bribes or donations to benefit them both. A tribe is similarly a cooperative group with a very stark division between membership and non while tribalism is just the desire to form those groups in extreme ways.

      1. Sol

        Yes. And baseball is a game of competition to discover which team is more athletically cooperative.

        The profit to our discussion may not lie in discerning why I am not unassailably 100% accurate and perfectly correct, but rather in figuring out how I might be making a valid point which could inform your own.

        The definition of corruption is an interesting point, thanks for highlighting that. Astute thinking. You know, I’ve pondered this, and perhaps we’ve meandered from the proper definition. There’s this whole ‘deliberately immoral villain’ smack to the word ‘corrupt’, sometimes. Witnessing the way corrupt people behave, well, yeah, one could rationally draw the conclusion that they aren’t very nice. And yet, Hanlon’s Razor.

        Humans are rationalizing (as opposed to rational) creatures. I read that here in the last couple days, I’m sure of it, and its a remarkable distinction. Another member posted about ‘dictator brain’, the neurological changes that affect those with power. I believe Dr Sukhinder Ohbi was the one behind the study to show a loss of mirroring in those who felt powerful (let me switch to laptop after this and give you proper linkage, its good stuff and i probably spelled the doctor’s name wrong anyhow).

        Its possible that ‘corrupt’ isn’t an accurate way to assign moral culpability. It might be more of a scientific, medical term used to describe neurological issues associated with making seriously [family blog]ed-up decisions.

        I’d love to know your thoughts.

        1. Sol

          Here you go, L. I most definitely spelled the doctor’s name wrong.

          Here is Dr Sukhvinder Obhi’s personal page, it seems. [Does anyone else think an academic using Blue Steel is somewhat concerning?]

 It’s Wilfried Laurier University rather than McMaster’s, but I think still the same person. Iiiiinteresting study.

 Slightly hysterical headline, ehhh, but wheat and chaff and all that.

    3. Steve H.

      Turchin’s ‘Ages of Discord’ predicts asymptotic social upheaval within the US in the next couple years. Given this, he’s looking for mechanisms of co-operation. ‘Ultrasociety’ is a study of what Nowak terms Group Selection – Tribal Wars, in which internal co-operation is driven by external (without-group) threat.

      > 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.

      As J. Pie said, ‘They broke the contract.’ So what comes after? The global model broke, and trust within the national frame is breaking. China is trying it’s app-driven social reciprocity network, but whether it scales up is a big If, as it operates by exclusion, out-grouping from the massive central hub. Group selection works best with many small groups, smaller than state(s), and companies may provide a decent model.

      If the 2020 election exposes/results in a defective state (a state of defector-dominance), the collapses clear the field for co-operators, and knowing what works becomes existentially important. Remove the squee and you see the desperation underneath, to keep Bruce Sterling from being the premier psychohistorian of our age.

    4. Thinkin' It Thru

      Let’s not fall for a simplistic, always contrived, False Dichotomy/Choice. I came to formally understand “Coopetition” – competition within the group for a larger piece-of-the-pie while cooperating to compete with other groups to enlarge the group’s pie – via Game Theory. We all have sensed it from childhood, I suspect.

      1. Thinkin' It Thru

        I did bastardize “coopetition” above, as unfortuanately true/pure cooperation I’ve yet to witness equally from all.

  3. Chris Cosmos

    Fair enough. We are human beings and if we are motivated mainly by greed it costs us psychic energy because, basically, being an asshole is dysfunctional to the inner life as well as for others. Cooperation is essential to any human endeavor. Let’s take the example if war. One of the joy’s of making war is the comradely relationships between soldiers who are facing danger together and must, without fail, cooperate. However the overall enterprise of war (at least all the wars the US fought since and including Vietnam) has been clearly based on the brutal and evil nature of the leadership class that went to wars based usually on lies. In the same way, while Silicon Valley companies may have cooperated in the creation phase they did so within the framework of a system based on greed, alienation, and the culture of narcissism. Economists seem to not understand that “innovation” depends the purpose of innovation and is not itself a virtue or legitimate goal. The proof is in the pudding the result of all this innovation is what? In actuality more human misery.

  4. L

    I am not sure I buy this analysis.

    For one I do not buy that Musk or Jobs were not driven by greed (Steve Jobs once famously cheated Steve Wozniak out of cash when they were still students together). Nor do I buy that Silicon Valley is greed free or cooperation-centric unless you carefully restrict your view of both. First with respect to greed, while Silicon Valley is celebrated as a hub of “innovation” most of the actual economic effort is driven by stock and stock inflation. That is entirely about greed. As Theranos and Uber amply illustrate actual technical innovations are secondary to stock pumping.

    As to cooperation consider Uber, AirBnB, & TaskRabbit. Uber is cooperative with other silicon valley companies (except where staff poaching, stealing and spying on journalists are concerned) but they are strongly amoral and competitive when it comes to other businesses (i.e. Cab companies or hotels), other locations (consider Uber and AirBNB’s approach to local laws), and of course to their actual employees or “contractors” who are in some cases selling themselves under by working for less than the depreciation of their homes or cars just to make ends meet while the companies drive the price ever lower. In that respect they are not just competitive but predatory.

    Don’t even get me started on Amazon.

    Now this may be consistent with Turchin’s first framing of Cultural Multilevel Selection as: “Competition between groups (up to whole societies) fosters within-group cooperation. Competition within groups (between their members) destroys cooperation.”

    If we accept the premise that “Silicon Valley” or rather “Funded Silicon Valley” is a society and all the rest of us are the outside group. In that respect we could claim that a group that accepts Theil, Holmes, and whoever is running Uber these days may fit a model of being a cooperative society that bands together against “outsiders.” But by that logic so is Wall Street.

  5. Carolinian

    Of course the central fallacy of Uncle Miltie’s Chicago School is the notion that pure self interest is itself rational rather than the product of deep down instincts over which we have little control. Whereas the Roman’s expressed a more rational approach to self interest with their bundles of fasces and devotion to the greater glory of Rome. To conquer the world you have to cooperate and whether world conquest is a worthy goal it does give an evolutionary leg up to your particular group.

    You would think all of this would be obvious to anyone other than those who make it their business for it not to be obvious–certain economists and modern day business people.

    1. L

      I would say that is by design. The Chicago School, and indeed most of economics takes accountable material gain as being the central good on which everything rests. Once you have done that you have predisposed the answers you will get and all that remains is fiddling with the models for form’s sake.

    2. Chris Cosmos

      Pure self-interests is, by itself, emotionally damaging and contrary to all possible reasonable definitions of human nature. We are hard-wired to connect not isolate ourselves. Pure self-interest is a form of narcissism and even autism and deeply harmful to any version of society. Of course, as Thatcher quipped, “there is no such thing as society.”

      1. Carolinian

        Sorry but self preservation is job one for any species. We are no exception. That doesn’t mean we don’t have other instinctive drives.

        1. Chris Cosmos

          Self-preservation as one overwhelming instinct is understandable but I don’t think it overrides love, compassion and concern for others in a fully aware and emotionally healthy person. Look at Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. I believe those at the highest two stages at least aren’t mainly interested in self-preservation. Of course then we get into the problem of what is the “self” as opposed to the “Self” which I see as two different things as per Vedanta ideas.

        2. c_heale

          Self preservation would imply cooperation in our case, since we are social animals. And self preservation would also imply not destroying our environment though global warming, building on greenfield sites and producing tons of toxic synthetic chemicals, among other things. However, neo-liberal economics seems to predicated around the idea that all these things are externalities and we are ‘rational’ (whatever that means) actors. Which is why neoliberal economics is a load of horseshit, and those that are following it are doing the best to destroy our planet.

        3. sympraxis

          Anyone who thinks that the desire for self-preservation is paramount in human motivation should at least read up on the evolution of cooperation and altruism. A starter set:

          Frans de Waal. The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society
          Robert Axelrod. Evolution of Cooperation
          Kim Sterelny, ed. Cooperation and Its Evolution

          Also: evolutionary biologists have become more receptive to group selection (i.e. evolution where the unit of selection — the entity which is said to be more or less fit — is, in addition to the individual, a group or groups, like the termites in a termite hill or birds that nest collectively), but species as a whole cannot be said to have a drive to self-preservation.

          Finally: actions conducive to fitness need not be motivated by a desire to preserve oneself or for that matter the species. The parent who cares for their offspring is doing something that may well contribute to their fitness (both of the parent and of the offspring), but the immediate, and perhaps only, motivation needed for them to do so is love.

  6. David

    Marxists have an interesting angle on this. Marx differentiated between traditional economic practice (known as Commodity-Money-Commodity or CMC) and capitalism, which he suggests is Money-Commodity-Money or MCM. In the first case, taking a Silicon Valley example, you make and sell computers ( C) so that you can get the money (M) to buy what you need to satisfy yourself ( C). In principle, this process can stop relatively soon. Your local baker or plumber or bookshop works according to this model. In the second case, you have Money (M) and look for things to sell ( C) to make more money (M). In principle, the second case process can go on for ever.
    It’s easy to see how this distinction could be relevant here. In the CMC model, enough is enough. Your business may expand, and you can be in competition with others, but you can also cooperate. Two pharmacies might agree to stagger their holiday closing periods so that one is always open, for example. But in the MCM model, all that counts is the size of the second ‘M’. In an economy where competition is to make profits rather than things, driven by the stock market, this encourages extreme competitiveness, to the point of unethical or even illegal behaviour. Moreover, if M is all that matters, gutting your own organisation or cheating your suppliers is a perfectly reasonable way of proceeding.
    I doubt if it’s quite as simple as this in practice. But it’s interesting to look at economic behaviour in countries where competition to produce more M is not so ingrained: Japan, for example, where construction companies regularly fix the bidding so that everybody gets a fair share of the contracts. When we encounter this behaviour, we call it “corruption” but it can be argued to be a highly sophisticated form of cooperation.

    1. Susan the other`

      I think this must be China’s model (CMC) as well. I marvel at any government controlling 1.5 billion people.

  7. Synoia

    It is apparent to me that Feudalism is the best model to describe Capitalistic behaviour. IMHO Institutions are feudal. To test this please indicate how many of one’s constitutional protection remain in the workplace? For example, Free Speech.

    A feudal system is characterized by a monopoly on power, within a specific scope – territory in some manner, and a hierarchy of Lords and Monarchs, where various feudal lords may cooperate, may fight, or rebel against the each other, driven by expedience.

    It is almost impossible for large companies in the US to cooperate, because this is viewed both as anti-trust breach, and has lack of clarity as to whom is the feudal overlord (Executive in control).

    Simply put, in any situation there are Grovelors, and Grovelees.

    1. eg

      Feudalism also had a series of reciprocal (and also sometimes nested) obligations in addition to the privileges that most people default to when they think of system.

      Not defending it here, just not sure what the analogous “obligations” are in the case of capitalism, which seems designed to expel such noxious things as externalities at all costs …

      1. Synoia

        Yes, which protected the Lords from having their throsts cut.

        Delivering the obligations was patchy at best.

        The corresponding pesant behaviour was malicious obedience.

  8. Pookah Harvey

    “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.”

    From the Wharton School UPenn:

    When Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe Systems last week agreed to settle a lawsuit accusing them of conspiring to prevent the hiring of each other’s employees, they avoided having to testify in court and risk a public glimpse into their strategies. Yet, the case has provoked a heated debate on the damage that no-poaching agreements cause.

    The class action lawsuit accused the four Silicon Valley companies of conspiring, between 2005 and 2009, to avoid hiring each other’s employees – a practice that the lawsuit says resulted in lower salaries for the affected individuals. About 64,000 employees of those companies sought $3 billion in damages, which would have risen to $9 billion under antitrust law. Estimates are that the companies agreed to settle the case for about $325 million, although they did not formally disclose that figure.

    There is cooperation then there is cooperation. As David Graeber has pointed out, even people with the best intentions, when put in the highly competitive capitalistic environment, are forced to act in the worst ways.


    In short, why Sears crashed. It’s the big irony of capitalism, that the most successful capitalist enterprises are run on distinctly non-capitalist principles internally. Socialized, although typically not socialist.

      1. PKMKII

        I was thinking socialized from a department sense. Resources aren’t allocated based on the profitability of each department (otherwise sales would get everything and IT would get nothing), but based on what the departments need in order to function so that the business as a whole can be profitable.

  10. Code Name D

    If anything, this artical understates the problem. Free market capitlism distroys cooperatin by design because its arkatects and preachers lonize the vertues of competition. Just look at our highschools and how stratified their culture is, populated with winners and losers. The winners, be they academic or athletic, are placed on pedistals to reseave the adderation of the masses. While the “losers” are quetly pushed out to improve the schools average GPA.

    But to even mention a more equitable or colaberative approch to education (as is common with other contries), you are labbled with the dreaded “S” for socolist. (I pause to alouw fainting and desperate gasps of shock.)

    My short time with Sprint can only be discribed as “soul crushing” because the compnay has an open philosphy of “worker compeition.” A project that can be sabatoged – should be sabatoged. The sabatours are even given boneses and promotions for exposing “weaknets” in any given project. And its done unapoligeticly because “compeition brings greatness” because – reasons.

  11. Jeremy Grimm

    I’ve met and talked at length with a few people I regard as entrepreneurs. They were motivated by a strong desire to build something and do it the ‘right’ way — their own way. They sought independence and a sense of pride and fulfillment in their work. Though they enjoyed their wealth, greed was not what drove them. They were trying to escape from jobs and work situations that crushed their spirits.

    Cooperation was very important to getting their businesses going. It was the willing cooperation of those who worked with and for them. It was the help and cooperation of other non-competing entrepreneurs and small businesses that benefited from their success. I was fortunate to meet some of the people in these supporting business and see the close friendship and cooperation between them and the entrepreneurs.

    I give a special meaning to the concept of entrepreneur so I cannot regard Steve Jobs or Elon Musk as entrepreneurs. They are a different kind of animal more closely related to creatures like P.T. Barnum. Similarly I would not call the Waltons or Bezos or Mr. Bill entrepreneurs. They are animals like John D. Rockefeller or J.P. Morgan. And Neutron Jack and his kin are an entirely different breed of animal.

  12. Susan the other`

    Evolution is something that happens on its own. We were conceived in cooperation for survival. Cooperation and evolution cannot be the result of a bright idea by a whiz kid. It is evolution by its very nature that leads to innovation and progress. Not the other way around. It is a very conservative process but it is not blind, deaf and dumb. It is inspiration and curiosity at a molecular level which cannot be concocted by a bunch of investors simply to make a killing, aka capitalism – doing things for money. We have not evolved for money. And if we look closely we see that money, financialization, is killing true progress. To try to kludge together cooperation and capitalism and imply it is the arc of history is an oxymoron. This entire superficial rationalization simply offends me.

  13. Anthony K Wikrent

    Pretty damn sad Thorstein Veblen does not even get mentioned here. Veblen pointed out the differences between business and industry, and wrote much about the need in modern industrial organizations for a high level of social cooperation and collective action. Moreover, Veblen noted, the need for collective cooperation in industry mitigated the predatory characteristics of finance and business inculcated into individuals.

    From Veblen’s 1899 The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions

    Manual labor, or even the work of directing mechanical processes, is of course on a precarious footing as regards respectability. A qualification is necessary as regards the discipline given by the pecuniary employments. As the scale of industrial enterprise grows larger, pecuniary management comes to bear less of the character of chicanery and shrewd competition in detail. That is to say, for an ever-increasing proportion of the persons who come in contact with this phase of economic life, business reduces itself to a routine in which there is less immediate suggestion of overreaching or exploiting a competitor. The consequent exemption from predatory habits extends chiefly to subordinates employed in business. The duties of ownership and administration are virtually untouched by this qualification. The case is different as regards those individuals or classes who are immediately occupied with the technique and manual operations of production. Their daily life is not in the same degree a course of habituation to the emulative and invidious motives and maneuvers of the pecuniary side of industry. They are consistently held to the apprehension and coordination of mechanical facts and sequences, and to their appreciation and utilization for the purposes of human life. So far as concerns this portion of the population, the educative and selective action of the industrial process with which they are immediately in contact acts to adapt their habits of thought to the non-invidious purposes of the collective life. For them, therefore, it hastens the obsolescence of the distinctively predatory aptitudes and propensities carried over by heredity and tradition from the barbarian past of the race.

  14. Ven

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

    Wow, great insight. Couldn’t have figured that one out.

    And as for:
    “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”

    Sounds like the Rainforest authors are shilling to endear themselves to their clients – like most business / leadership hagiographies do.

    Utter waste of time

  15. nat scientist

    Now this may be consistent with Turchin’s first framing of Cultural Multilevel Selection as:

    Competition within groups (between their members) destroys cooperation.”

    Not so fast! Competing to be the faster learner makes the class better and accelerates

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