The meta-invisible hand

Anders Sandberg (
20 Sep 1997 04:12:29 +0200

The meta-invisible hand: self-organized criticality and politics

I have no desire to participate in the debate about the market
versus the state. I have heard it before, and frankly I prefer to
spend my mental resources at more creative problems. Here is
an idea which may however have some bearing on the debate.

I think it was originally formulated by the fictional "Invisible
Hand Society" mentioned in Robert Anton Wilson's Schrödinger's Cat
Trilogy: the "invisible hand" acts not just on the market, but
also on politics as a whole. If the market is very free, undesirable
factors (such as unemployment, inequalities or people treated
badly by companies) will tend to push it in the direction of
greater government interference and give power to unions. On the other
hand, if the government is too strong, it will become inefficient,
bureaucratic and be perceived as repressive, which will strengthen
pro-market forces, pushing for freedom. So the end result is that
the "meta-invisible hand" will lead to a balanced politics somewhere
between the free market and a government-run economy.

It is interesting to note that this description strongly suggests
self-organized criticality, where political changes scale according
to a power-law (small changes in policy are common, larger less
common, according to a (size)^-constant law). If Kauffman is to
be believed, this may in general be a state of maximal diversity
and maximal fitness: a lot of competing systems exist, but none
will get totally dominant; none of them are obviously flawed and
all have positive aspects. If Kauffman is right, it might even
be possible to predict the ideal range of freedom-security that
societies tend to converge to.

It is worth noting that the system can stagnate into an attractor,
at least if it is small. If the system is small it can easily get
trapped in a one-policy state since for few actors, the number
of actors supporting a certain policy will be small and random
fluctuations will hence be comparatively stronger than in a
many actor system. This makes "extinction" of policies likelier,
and after a while only one remains. If the system is large
enough this is counteracted by both the number of new
mutations and the larger number of agents supporting most policies
(note that there are still plenty of small policies that are
likely to quickly go extinct, a kind of political undergrowth).
The size where this happens likely depends on how the policies
co-evolve and the kind of interactions that take place.

One problem is that even if policy fitness is maximized, it
doesn't necessarily maximize human happiness or growth. Neither
a free market or a strong state will make people happy, and
the self-organization process will not do that until
human happiness becomes the determining factor of the memetic
fitness of policies. This suggests the need for a new
economic and political system, an extension of the policy
space in a new direction. The goal should be to create a new
self-organized critical state (which is flexible and avoids
stagnation) where human extropy is maximized. How to do
this is left as an exercise for the memetic complexity engineering

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
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