2007-10-25

Reducing Social Conflict: Lessons from Ecology

In ecology, one can see that if a species is too "efficient", it will exhaust its resources, and become extinct. This has led to the "prudent predator" concept: A predator needs to save some prey to subsist another day. Herbivores need to do the same with pastures, and parasites and viruses with their hosts. This is why deadly virus strains do not propagate much: if they kill their hosts, they cannot use them to spread.

We can extend this idea to social systems. For example, if employers exploit their workers too much, these will not be motivated to work well, and the company will go out of business. Certainly, there are exceptions: monopolies, where no matter how bad a service or product is, the consumer has no alternative. Another case is when there is a large workforce supply, i.e. high unemployment rates. If there are plenty of workers, employers will be tempted to exploit them, replacing the "weak" ones with those able to withstand their demands.
Still, overexploitation of workers will lead to a decrease in efficiency of the company. It is to the advantage of the employers to treat their workers well, just as it is to the advantage of parasites not to kill their hosts. Economy, just as ecology, is not about obtaining most profit now, but about reaching the highest level of constant profit. Too much immediate profit will lead to future collapse. And for this we can look not only at ecology, but also at history: this mechanism is precisely what triggers revolutions and social conflict.

What was said above about employers can also be applied to nation leaders: exploit the people now, you'll get a revolution tomorrow. Support the people, and your own power will grow. The same goes for international relations. I will limit myself to the case of U.S. and Mexico. For decades, the U.S. has been dominating Mexico politically and economically. The outcome: no development in Mexico, half a million immigrants to the U.S. every year in this decade, poverty and unemployment in both countries. If Mexico had the development level of e.g. Portugal or Spain, which have grown thanks to the European Union support, the economy of the U.S. would benefit greatly, since it would provide a huge market to sell their products and invest. They already dominate the Mexican market (more than half of Mexican food is imported from the U.S.... a large part harvested by Mexicans...), but it is limited to the low income of the average citizen. If the U.S. had allowed more development in Mexico, today both would be better off: Mexico with less poverty and higher income, the U.S. with less immigrants and wider market opportunities in Mexico.

Profit (economic, social, oligarchic, geopolitic) on the long term does not come from taking advantage of the moment, but from reducing frictions and conflict. If you want to have gains, it is foolish to try to take from others. The way to go is to build together with them... symbiosis constructs, parasitism destroys...

I am not naïve enough to think that conflict can be avoided. I am just pointing out that minimizing it brings more profits in the long term than fueling it.

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