The implications for political economy of systems thinking and recent knowledge, especially the implications arising from the insight that human behaviour is an emergent property of the human activity system.

Figure 1b - Implications for political economy

Not all of this system is fixed, behaviour is therefore mutable; it is realistic to hope that by learning from what we know and going with the grain of our natures we can in fact build a better society.

Once we start looking at the world through the lens of systems thinking we begin to appreciate the richness of and complexity of reality and the delicate balances that keep the world in equilibrium. We see that there is as much co-operation in nature as there is competition and we remember (rediscover, learn) that altruism occurs naturally.

When we treat behaviour as the emergent property of the human system the first thing we realise is how plain destructive and criminally insane it is to continually tell ourselves the story that the world is driven by competition and greed and that when good things happen its is as a happy by-product of greed and selfishness (as if). The thing we need to realise is the sheer power that telling a different and true story has to change things. In the appendix on systems we learned that changing the paradigm is the second most powerful way to change a system and that keeping an open mind is the first. The new story acknowledges that we can be destructive, selfish and competitive but is clear that if we reign in these tendencies and play to our collective strengths, that we cooperate and collaborate we will get better results all round. A growing number of people get this instinctive but their voices often go unheard. Whilst it may be difficult is is entirely possible to begin changing this as I discuss in What can be done and the following sections on practical politics. 

So what are the implications for knowledge and its acquisition that are relevant to the political economy we build?

Systems Thinking

There are two big implications;

  • as a way of changing something we can alter the way we think about it,
  • for this to happen systems thinking itself has to become more widely appreciated.

Given what we know about behaviour, it is sensible (from the point of enlightened self interest) to construct a culture that is designed to bring out the best in all people. That is simply the least we can do to ensure we have the best chance of living our lives free from the unwanted attention of others.

Our natures mean that there are both opportunities to envision a better way of doing things and some constraints.

A new (true) story

We can tell a different story, we can adopt a different mindset and work towards that paradigm shift that is the key to change.

We make our culture competitive by choice it is not an analogue of nature and this cannot be used to give it that legitimacy. We inherit a much higher degree of natural cooperativeness than is allowed by prevailing norms. I go further and say a new politics, based on our natures could aim to build a political economy that emphasise collaboration.

The key is that culture, being an artefact can be changed. It will change anyway so its up to us to change it into something better – that is with more utility.

If we do change the culture it will have an impact on our behaviours, so if we shape structures that increase involvement, cooperation and collaboration we do have a chance to create virtuous circles leading to further improvement.

The model I have developed represents human behaviour as an emergent property of the human activity system. It is the simplest I could make it which allowed all the major sub-systems to be covered. Look into any of the things represent ed on the schematic and they soon becomes massively complicated. Thats just how it is. However, and this is vital, it is sufficiently rich to capture the interacting elements which generate the emergent property of human behaviour. Emergence is only observable at the system level.

Human behaviour is the critical property of our current political economy and for the development of an alternative.

My case is that the current system seems almost perfectly designed to bring out the worst in people and is a caricature of democracy. OK it clearly is not the worst in the sense that we don't do mass executions, but it is close to the worst we could get if we were to use Organisational Design to devise structures that allowed for cooperation and were intended to produced good governance. My case is that we can actually design a political economy which will bring out the best in people. Why? Because political economy is a thing we made - we can alter it. How? Well first, by knowing improvement is practical and well within what we can achieve as a species and second, by acting decisively and collectively on that knowledge.