Experiments, liberty and success

Found somewhere on the net. Something I thought about. Why some societies fail when other prosper? One of the important reasons is explained in the text cited below. Simply the successful ones experiment and find solutions better, while the stagnating ones follow the models which don’t function anymore, thus leading to decay and growing chaos.


“Work by some prescient social scientists has produced a great many insights about what characteristics are conducive to social formations capable of adaptation and innovation. For example, the economist Friedrich Hayek emphasized that individual liberty is “essential in order to leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable. It is because every individual knows so little and, in particular, because we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it” (The Constitution of Liberty, 1960).


Nathan Rosenberg, an economic historian, pursued the question of why the United States became the predominant economy of the 20th century. He highlighted the key roles that economic and organizational experiments, marked by both a high degree of autonomy and a large number of independent, decentralized decision-makers, played in such events (Why in America?, 1981).

The urban historian Jane Jacobs studied why some cities remain economically vibrant over long periods of time. Jacobs sees economic life “as a process of continually improvising in a context that makes injecting improvisations into everyday life feasible. We might amplify this by calling development an improvisational drift into unprecedented kinds of work that carry unprecedented problems, then drifting into improvised solutions, which carry further unprecedented work carrying unprecedented problems” (Cities and the Wealth of Nations, 1984). The diversity “of economic activities, ideas, lifestyles, neighborhoods, social groups, and individuals” is for Jacobs the essential foundation that allows a city to successfully improvise, adapt, and innovate. Or consider the explanation offered by the philosopher Karl Popper as to why “open societies” have prospered (The Open Society and its Enemies, 1945). For Popper, human existence is first and foremost a process of problem-solving; successful societies are therefore those societies which are conducive to problem solving. Because problem-solving calls for the production of trial solutions which are then subjected to evaluation and criticism, Popper saw as superior those forms of society that permit the untrammeled assertion of differing proposals, followed by the genuine possibility of change in light of open discussion and criticism.”


Giving Up Control?

A Santa Fe Institute Business Network Discussion White Paper (Discussion Draft)

Authors Alpheus Bingham, Eli Lilly

José Lobo, Santa Fe Institute

John Miller, Santa Fe Institute and Carnegie Mellon University

Jim Rutt, Santa Fe Institute

June 19, 2003


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