How Economists Tricked Us Into Thinking Capitalism Works
These days, it seems like someone is always trying to privatize something. One day it’s the Trump administration contemplating the privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The next it’s the Tories looking to sell off the U.K.’s National Health Service, or economists promoting “market-based” solutions to the climate crisis. In this age of neoliberalism, the rallying cry for politicians and economists alike is always for “More privatization! More markets! Sell it all off to the private sector!”
Evolutionary biologists have also largely debunked the theory of Homo economicus. Researchers like David Sloan Wilson and others have determined that more prosocial groups will robustly outcompete less prosocial groups, meaning that prosociality was an advantageous trait when it came to the natural selection of early humans. And these theories are not new. Over a century ago, the anarchist theorist Peter Kropotkin wrote convincingly on how the survival of our species has depended more on cooperation than on the heroic efforts of isolated individuals. It certainly is difficult imagining an early human taking down a woolly mammoth without engaging in highly coordinated prosocial behavior. How else could the human species evolve to dominate the globe if not by cooperating with one another to overcome the many challenges our species faced?Another place where we see the myth of Homo economicus debunked is in the research that comes out of post-disaster communities.
Another place where we see the myth of Homo economicus debunked is in the research that comes out of post-disaster communities. In her landmark book, A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit presents a thesis arguing that humans have an innate capacity toward collectivism — and that these traits tend to reveal themselves most strongly in community response to disasters. Far from resorting to antisocial behavior after a disaster (a myth which the media tend to elevate), Solnit’s book outlines enumerable instances where communities demonstrate prosocial behaviors like cooperation, solidarity, sacrifice and generosity instead.
“In the wake of an earthquake, a bombing, or a major storm, most people are altruistic, urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them, strangers and neighbors as well as friends and loved ones,” Solnit writes. “Decades of meticulous sociological research on behavior in disasters, from the bombings of World War II to floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and storms across the continent and around the world, have demonstrated this.”