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Social Cooperation: Why Thieves Hate Free Markets

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Uploaded on Jan 27, 2012

Many believe that market economies create a dog eat dog environment full of human conflict and struggle. To Prof. Aeon Skoble, the competition in markets does not create conflict, but rather, encourages people to cooperate with one another for mutual benefit.

For instance, suppose a thief steals a suit from Macy's. If Macy's knew who the thief was, one could argue that Macy's has an incentive to keep this information from their competitors. By withholding information about the thief, it would make it much less likely that thief would get caught while robbing Macy's competitors. However, in the real world, competitors share information about theft with one another, creating a valuable information network. Competitors share information because it is in all of their mutual interest to crack down on theft. If a business chooses to ignore the information network, they lose out on valuable information.

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.

These voluntary systems of social cooperation, often called organic or spontaneous orders, are not planned from the top down by enlightened rulers. Rather, they emerge overtime as individuals interact with one another. These spontaneous orders are all around us, and include important things like language, fashion, internet memes, prices in a market, and law.

Going back to the suit thief, it may very well be the case that some individuals abstain from crime because of the threat of jail. However, it is also very likely that crime is prevented through networks of trust and reputation. The next time you hear that the problems that society faces can only be solved by applying force from the top down, you are right to be skeptical. Peaceful and voluntary mechanisms that encourage and facilitate cooperation are all around us.

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