In Supposed Dog-Eat-Dog World, Social Cooperation Is Surprisingly Common

The WealthCycles Staff

So-called “conventional wisdom” is that government is necessary to ensure the functioning of society—that left free of the restrictions and regulations of government, society would deteriorate into violence and chaos. But this film features another worldview from Professor Aeon J. Skoble—the view that, left unimpeded, even competing entities in society find ways to cooperate to better the conditions of all.

Skoble is Professor of Philosophy at Bridgewater State University in southeastern Massachusetts; he is also a regular contributor to LearnLiberty.org an online resource with a mission to teach about liberty and a free society. From the Website:

Our goal is to provide a starting point for conversations on important questions:
·       What is the nature of man and society?
·       What are the best ways to organize human society?
·       What is the proper role for government?
Classical Liberal Tradition
We believe that the classical liberal or libertarian tradition can offer compelling answers to these questions. Classical liberal ideas have deep intellectual roots, cultivated by thinkers such as John Locke, Adam Smith, the American Founders, and more recent scholars such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.

In this video Skoble attempts to offer some of those answers as he makes his case for the ability, even the compulsion, of society and the commercial sector to cooperate. His ideas contradict the conventional wisdom that, when left to its own devices, society will fall into a destructive and competitive norm.

 

To make his case, Skoble uses an anecdote of a man trying to get a free suit:

I know how to get a free suit. All I have to do is go to Macy’s, get a suit, charge it and then when the bill comes, rip it up. Ethical issues aside, you see, the main problem with this approach is that I can only do it once. The next time I go to Macy’s they’ll know, because they made a note that I steal suits. 

Of course the solution would be to simply go to JCPenney and get a “free” suit there. After all, Macy’s and Penney’s are competitors, so they aren’t going to share information with one another; otherwise they would lose a competitive advantage, right?

Wrong. Macy’s has actually decided to let Penney’s know that I’m a suit stealer, and they shouldn’t do business with me.

One view of the market place is that it’s a dog-eat-dog world of hostile competitors. So what could possibly explain Macy’s actions if that view is true? There is no explanation, except that both Macy’s and Penney’s and other supposed competitors have realized that cooperating (sharing information) is more productive than isolation and competition.

The example above is just one of many examples where competitors have a strong incentive to cooperate with one another. In a certain way, we're all merchants who trade with one another. We all individually depend on networks of reputation and trust to own a car, own a home, and have a job. In a world of competition and scarcity, we are not only capable of cooperating with one another, but we frequently do.

Skoble’s perspective is reflective of that of Ronald Coase, whose lifelong study of economics has lead him to believe that to fully understand economics it is critical to look beyond the theoretical. In our report Economist Coase Studies People, Companies, Not Abstractions, we wrote:

Coase is increasingly disillusioned with the data and mathematical nature of modern economics and urges the upcoming generation of economists to study instead the behavior of humans and companies—a philosophy that is right in line with that of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises.

Skoble’s focus on cooperation exactly represents the emphasis that Coase believes is necessary to the evolution of economic understanding. More importantly, Skoble has given us a clear and precise example of how economies, when left to operate freely, will work cooperatively to find the best solution.

Thanks for the mention and the kind words. One correction, BSU is in southeastern Mass, not southwestern Mass.

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