The main idea of this book is to present the latest technological achievements of MIT and other American high tech institutions and then convince reader that bright future depends on giving them lots and lots of government money above and beyond of lots and lots of government money they are receiving now.
This refers to growth of population and need to overcome Malthus ideas about population growth outpacing resources, resulting in wars and starvations. Author points out that it was prevented by technological development of XIX and XX centuries and her believe that we need another technological breakthrough to prevent it in the future. Author also presents here the plan of the book with annotation for each chapter.
1 WHERE THE FUTURE COMES FROM
This starts with a bit of biography of how author became MIT president and then moves to ideas of integrating different scientific fields, with such integration providing for new discoveries and inventions. Author discusses the first such integration of physics and engineering and then promotes the new integration of biology and engineering.
2 CAN BIOLOGY BUILD A BETTER BATTERY?
This chapter introduces the nucleic acids, DNA and RNA, which serve as biology’s information system. Nucleic acids direct the assembly of biological structures and ensure the accurate transmission of traits from one generation to the next. Nucleic acids can be manipulated, and this chapter describes how nucleic acids of viruses have been manipulated for next-generation battery fabrication. DNA and RNA carry the instruction set for the assembly of proteins, the mini-machines responsible for many biological functions.
3 WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE A CANCER-FIGHTING NANOPARTICLES
This chapter tells the story of the discovery of protein, called aquaporin. Aquaporin serves as a highly specific channel for water flowing into and out of cells (in bacteria, animals, and plants) and is now being deployed in commercial water filters.
4 CANCER FIGHTING NANOPARTICLES
The technologies discussed in this chapter introduce one of the fastest growing areas of medicine—namely, molecular medicine—with its central premise that disease processes reflect perturbations in the normal molecular processes of our cells. Highly sensitive new technologies that recognize those perturbations make early disease detection more reliable and less expensive. Our complex biological functions, such as breathing, digestion, and hearing, are carried out by complex tissues composed of an array of different kinds of cells gathered and organized together, with the brain the most complex tissue of all.
5 AMPLIFYING THE BRAIN
This describes how the brain sends messages along nerves to move limbs and how new technologies can restore to amputees and victims of brain injury the ability to move their limbs.
6 FEEDING THE WORLD
This is the last technological chapter that returns us to the sum of the parts. For every living organism, the sum of gene and protein expression is revealed in its physical traits -its phenotype. Over at least the last ten thousand years humankind has selected and propagated plants and animals by evaluating their phenotypes. Here author describes new engineering tools that accelerate phenotype-based selection, promising to identify more productive and more resilient food crops in time to nourish the planet’s growing population.
7 CHEATING MALTHUS, ONCE AGAIN: Making Convergence Happen Faster
The final chapter discusses what author calls Convergence 2.0: combination of technical and biological sciences, which follows historical conversion of physics and engineering – Conversion 1.0. Author notes that all fundamental discoveries necessary for Conversion 1.0 were made before 1930, but somehow fails to mention that it was done with private support with no government money whatsoever. After that she greatly praises government role in its implementation, which was driven by military needs of WWII and then Cold War. Author then links scientific progress directly to government funding and call for its dramatic increase.
MY TAKE ON IT:
This book is interesting for me in two ways. One is description of current and coming technological achievements based on scientific research. The other one is author’s mode of thinking, which is probably highly typical for contemporary bureaucratic scientist who probably spent good chunk of her time in all kinds of competitive bureaucratic fights for funding. Understandably, the future of science in her mind depends on outcome of these bureaucratic games. I do not believe that it is correct approach. Government / Bureaucratic funding produces well fed, wealthy bureaucrats rather than well developed technology. I would like to see real breakdown of funding, which I have no doubt would demonstrate huge waste on meaningless projects like “Future impacts of increase in temperature from global warming on something in XXV century”. I think that America had very good scientific arrangement when Universities funded by private charities and reasonable tuition fees produced high quality fundamental science and well educated citizens who were capable developing new technologies and run successful businesses, while adjusting these technologies to human needs and making huge amounts of money in the process. Later on these successful people donated significant resources back to Universities partly to satisfy their scientific curiosity, something that well educated people usually develop, and partly to establish their legacy. The current system of government funding from money confiscated from productive people and allocated vie political and bureaucratic games is detrimental to development of real science and supports huge waste on pseudo science, which is always much more politically correct than real science.
The main idea of this book is to look at formation, maintenance, and dissolution of all types of societies from ants to humans, their functioning and/or malfunctioning. The main points are:
- Society membership based on various parameters, which define individuals that belong as separate and different from those who do not belong, creating support for the former and rejection and often hostility to latter.
- Societies are tremendously different and it is questionable that there are ways to avoid clashes, even if interests are irreconcilable.
- There is some logical commonality in origin, maintenance, and dissolution of societies that could be understood by methods of science including “biology, anthropology, and psychology, with some philosophy thrown in for good measure.”
- The future depends on human ability to overcome limitations of struggle of one’s society against others and find accommodation and resolution of difference within societies and between them.
Author describes his objectives for each chapter in some detail, providing pretty good overview of the book.
SECTION I: AFFILIATION AND RECOGNITION
This part “takes in the wide range of vertebrate societies”,
that author is familiar with as biologist
Chapter 1: What a Society Isn’t (and What It Is)
This is about the role of cooperation in societies, which author believes is less essential than the matter of identity; societies consist of a distinct set of members in a rich tapestry of relationships, not all of which are harmonious.
Chapter 2: What Vertebrates Get out of Being In
This chapter covers other vertebrate species, especially the mammals, to illuminate how societies, despite whatever imperfections in the system of partnership that exists within them, benefit the members by providing for their needs and protecting them.
Chapter 3: On the Move
“The third chapter probes into how the movements of animals within and between societies are important to the success of the various groups. One versatile pattern of activity, fission-fusion, creates a dynamic that helps explain the evolution of intelligence in certain species, humans most obviously among them, and the subject will come up repeatedly in this book. “
Chapter 4: Individual Recognition
“Chapter 4 investigates how much the members of most mammal societies must know about each other for their societies to stay together. Here, author reveals a limiting factor in the societies of many species: all their members are obliged to know each other as individuals, whether they like each other or not, restricting the societies to, at most, a few dozen individuals. This sets up a puzzle about how the human species broke free of such a constraint.
SECTION Il: ANONYMOUS SOCIETIES
This section addresses a group of organisms that readily crash through the population limit of individual-to-individual familiarity: social insects. He states as one of his objectives to break down any aversions that the reader may have about likening insects to “higher species,” especially humans, by making clear the value of these comparisons.
Chapter 5: Ants and Humans, Apples and Oranges
Chapter 5 reports on how social complexity generally climbs with an increase in the size of insect societies with features like infrastructure and division of labor becoming more complex, a trend paralleled in humans.
Chapter 6: The Ultimate Nationalists
Chapter 6 looks at how most social insects, and a few vertebrates such as the sperm whale, demonstrate affiliation with a society by using something that marks their identity: chemistry (a scent) in ants, and a sound in whales. These simple techniques are not constrained by the limitations of memory, and thus permit the societies of certain species to reach immense sizes, in a few cases without an upper bound.
Chapter 7: Anonymous Humans
The chapter after that, “Anonymous Humans,” spells out how humans employ the same approach: our species is attuned to markers that reflect what each society finds acceptable, including behaviors so subtle they may only be noticed subliminally. By this means people can connect with strangers in what author calls an anonymous society, thereby breaking the glass ceiling in the size societies can achieve.
SECTION III: HUNTER-GATHERERS UNTIL RECENT TIMES
Chapter 8: Band Societies; Chapter 9: The Nomadic Lite; Chapter 10: Settling Down
This section asks what the societies of our species were like before the advent of agriculture. Authors covers people who existed as hunter-gatherers up to recent times, ranging from those who lived nomadically in small, spread-out groups, called bands, and others who settled down for much or all of the year. Although the nomads have gotten most of the attention and are treated as the gold standard for our ancestral condition, a readily defensible conclusion is that both options have been within the reach of human beings likely going back to the origins of our species. We can also conclude that hunter-gatherers were not archaic people living an archaic mode of existence. Their people must be recognized as essentially no different from us: humans, as it were, “in the present tense.” Despite traces of ongoing, even rapid human evolution in the past 10,000 years, the human brain clearly hasn’t been restructured in any fundamental way since the appearance of the first Homo sapiens. This implies that notwithstanding any human adjustments to modern life, we can look to the lifestyles of hunter-gatherers in recorded history and consider the nature of early human societies as the bedrock that underlies our own. What concerns author most are the extraordinary differences between the nomadic hunter-gatherers—equality-minded jacks-of-all-trades, who solved issues by discussion—and settled hunter-gatherers, whose societies often became open to leaders, division of labor, and disparities in wealth. The former social structure points to a psychological versatility we still possess, even if most people today behave more like settled hunter-gatherers. Two conclusions of Section III are that hunter-gatherers had distinct societies and that those societies were distinguished, just as societies are now, by markers of identity. What that means is that at some point in the distant past, our ancestors must have taken the crucial but heretofore overlooked evolutionary step of making use of badges of membership that would, in time, permit our societies to grow large.
SECTION IV: THE DEEP HISTORY OF HUMAN ANT
Chapter 11: Pant-Hoots and Passwords
For clues about how this happened, Section IV transports us into the past and also scrutinizes the behavior of modern chimps and bonobos. Author puts forward the hypothesis that a simple shift in how the apes use one of their vocalizations, the pant-hoot, could make that sound essential for identifying each other as society members. Such a transformation, or something like it, could have easily occurred in our distant ancestors. Ever more markers would have been added to this initial “password,” many of them connected to our bodies, transforming them into flesh-and-blood bulletin boards for displaying human identity. Having looked at how markers of identity originated, we are in a position to explore the psychology underlying those markers and society membership.
SECTION V: FUNCTIONING (OR NOT) IN SOCIETIES
Chapter 12: Sensing Others; Chapter 13: Stereotypes and Stories; Chapter 14: The Great Chain; Chapter 15: Grand Unions; Chapter 16: Putting Kin in Their Place
The five chapters of Section V, “Functioning (or Not) in Societies,” review a fascinating range of recent findings about the human mind. Most of the research has focused on ethnicity and race, but should apply to societies as well. Among the topics are the following: how people see others as possessing an underlying essence that make societies (and ethnicities and races) so fundamental that they think of these groups as if they were separate biological species; how infants learn to recognize such groups; the role stereotypes play in streamlining our interactions with others, and how those stereotypes can become tied to prejudices; and how the prejudices are expressed automatically, and unavoidably, often leading us to perceive an outsider more as a member of his or her ethnicity or society than as a unique individual. Our psychological assessments of others are many and varied, including our penchant for ranking outsiders as “below” our own people or in some cases as subhuman altogether. The fourth chapter of Section V elucidates how we apply these assessments of others to societies as a whole. People believe that the members of foreign groups (and their own people as well) can act as a united entity, with emotional responses and goals of its own. The final chapter steps back to draw from what we have discovered about the psychology of societies and the underlying biology to pose more sweeping questions about how family life fits in the picture—whether, for example, societies can be understood as a kind of extended family.
SECTION VI: PEACE AND CONFLICT
Section VI, entitled “Peace and Conflict,” takes on the issue of the relationships among societies.
Chapter 17: Is Conflict Necessary?
In this chapter author documents the evidence from nature, which shows that while animal societies need not be in conflict, peace between them is relatively rare, present in just a few species and supported by situations of minimal competition.
Chapter 18: Playing Well with Others
The second chapter then highlights hunter-gatherers to examine how not merely peace but active collaborations between societies provided additional options for our species.
SECTION VII: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOCIETIES
Chapter 19: The Lifecycle of Societies; Chapter 20: The Dynamic “Us”; Chapter 21: Inventing Foreigners and the Death of Societies
Section VII, “The Life and Death of Societies,” examines how societies come together and fall apart. Before writing about people, author surveys the animal kingdom, concluding that all societies go through some sort of lifecycle. Although, other mechanisms for starting new societies exist, the pivotal event in most species is the division of an existing society. The evidence from chimpanzees and bonobos, bolstered by data on other primates, is that a division is preceded by the emergence, over months or years, of factions in the society, which increases discord and ultimately causes a split. The same formation of factions, usually over the passage of centuries, takes place with humans also, except for a key difference: the primary pressure that severed human factions was when the original uniting markers keeping a society together were no longer shared, leading people to see themselves as incompatible. This section lays plain how people’s perceptions of their own identities change over time in a way that could not be stopped in prehistory, mainly the result of poor communication across hunter-gatherer bands. For this reason, hunter-gatherer societies split apart when they were tiny by today’s standards.
SECTION VIII: TRIBES TO NATIONS
Chapter 22: Turning a Village into a Conquering Society; Chapter 23: Building and Breaking a Nation
The expansion of societies into states (nations) was made possible by the social changes author lays out in section VIII, “Tribes to Nations.” Some hunter-gatherer settlements and tribal villages with simple agriculture took the first tentative steps in this direction as leaders extended their power to take control of neighboring societies. Author begins by describing how tribes were organized into multiple villages, each of which acted independently much of the time. The leaders of these loosely connected villages were not very proficient at sustaining social unity and curtailing social breakdowns, in part because they lacked the means of keeping their people on the same page with regards to identifying with the society—things such as roadways and ships that connected people with what their compatriots were doing elsewhere. Growth also required societies to expand their dominion over the territories of their neighbors. This didn’t occur peacefully: across the animal kingdom author finds little evidence of societies freely merging. Human societies came to conquer each other, thereby bringing outsiders into their fold. Occasional transfers of membership take place in other species too, but in humans such exchange was taken to a new level with the advent of slavery, and finally, the subjugation of entire groups. Now that we understand the forces that can cause small societies to scale up to large ones, including the nations of today, the final chapter of Section VIII evaluates how these societies tend to meet their end. What’s typical of societies put together by conquest isn’t division between factions, as we saw earlier for hunter-gatherers, nor utter collapse, though it can happen, but rather a fracturing that almost always occurs roughly along the ancient territorial lines of the peoples that have come to make up the society. Large societies may be no more durable than small ones, fragmenting on average once every few centuries.
SECTION IX: FROM CAPTIVE TO NEIGHBOR… TO GLOBAL CITIZEN
The final section carries us along the circuitous route that led to the rise of ethnicities and races and the at times muddy waters of current national identities.
Chapter 24: The Rise of Ethnicities
To become an interlocking whole, a conquering society had to make the shift from controlling what had been independent groups to accepting them as members. This requires an adjustment in people’s identities, in which ethnic minority groups adjust to the majority people—the dominant group that most often, founded the society and controls not only its identity, but also most of the resources and power. This assimilation would be accomplished only to a degree, for this reason: ethnicities and races—as demonstrated earlier in the book for individual persons and for societies as well—will be most comfortable together if they share some commonalities and yet differ enough to feel distinct. Status differences emerge among the various minorities too, and may change over the course of generations—though the majority almost always stays firmly in control. Bringing the minorities into the fold as society members entails allowing them to intermix with the majority people, a geographical integration of populations that not all past societies have permitted.
Chapter 25: Divided We Stand
This chapter tackles how modern societies have made the friendlier incorporation of large numbers of outsiders possible through immigration. Such movements have seldom occurred easily, and, as in the past, have assigned lower power and status to the immigrants, who may face the least resistance when they take on social roles that minimize competition with other members while giving them a sense of value and esteem. The identity immigrants had once treasured in their ethnic homeland is often recast into broader racial groups. The shift in perception may initially be pushed on the newcomers, but they can accept the changes because of the advantages of having a more extensive base of social support in the adopted society. The chapter closes by describing how criteria for citizenship have come to deviate from the psychology of how people register who has a rightful place in a society. The latter is heavily influenced by people’s attitudes about how important a society should be in providing for different individuals or groups versus protecting themselves—attitudes relating to patriotism and nationalism, respectively. Variation among the members in these points of view may well be required for a healthy society, even though it also compounds the social conflicts that make headlines today.
Chapter 26: The Inevitability of Societies
This raises the issue of whether societies are necessary. In making what inferences author can in this book, he admits up front that a unified field of study of societies is a distant dream. All too often, academic disciplines foster a habitual concentration on certain modes of thought and a disdain for the unfamiliar by dividing the intellectual world into mutually alien fields known as biology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and history, thus leaving much room in the nooks and crannies between for debate. For instance, “modernist” scholars of history view nations as a purely recent phenomenon. Author’s contention will be that the national pedigree has ancient roots. Some anthropologists and sociologists go a step further and see societies as entirely optional, with people forming such unions when it serves their interests. Author’s goal is to show that membership in a society is as essential for our well being as finding a mate or loving a child. Author frustrates somewhat in his own discipline of biology. He has listened to biologists adamantly oppose the idea that societies ought to be examined as groups of distinct identity and membership when their study species don’t quite match with this criterion—a passionate reaction that more than anything makes plain the cachet of the word “society.” Disputes among the specialists aside, readers of every political persuasion will find both good and bad news in the current science. Whatever readers’ social views, author urges them to consider insights from fields beyond their usual interests to become aware of how one’s own, often subliminal, biases and those of people around – writ large, across multitudes – might affect both the actions of a country and individual’s daily conduct with others.
Conclusion: Identities Shift and Societies Shatter
Here author summarizes his views on human relations within society and between societies. This includes absolute necessity of society for human existence, expansion of societies beyond limitations of individual recognition, with necessity of market to support such expansion. He then discusses treatment of aliens, and consequently relations between societies as based on levels of maturity of individuals and their society with more mature societies being more tolerant. Author also discusses issues of individual freedom and group freedom and how they relate to others using American experiment to make major points of his views. Finally he expresses caution for future developments that he believes currently moves away from pursuit of diversity to pursuit of national prosperity and fear that any discontent will be directed at outsiders. His hope is that human trend to cooperate to mutual benefit would be more powerful than trend to blame and attack others for any arising problems.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think author provides pretty good narrative of history, formation, functioning, and/or dis-functioning of societies in animal world including humans. I think that we are in process of formation of one global society covering all individuals on this planet. Only I do not believe that it would be easy and fast process and I also do not believe that it would be done with kind of salad plate when different cultures remain mixed and separate at the same time. I think that it would be rather melting pot of formation of the one united society with one language and one culture formed on the bases of previously existing cultures providing very different input: some cultures huge and some very small. The process of such formation is unpredictable and may or may not include massive violence and forced accommodation to some norms. It also may or may not be very benign with individuals’ voluntary accepting features of preferred culture they think to be more beneficent for them. One thing I am pretty sure about is that it all depends on triumph of failure of ongoing American experiment, which is now endangered by uncontrollable cancerous growth of bureaucracy and administrative state that are suppressing individual freedoms, making peaceful accommodation all but impossible. Actually I hope that existing American society is strong enough to overcome this disease and consequently open the way to universal truly democratic society, but it is just a hope.
The main idea here is to restate once again author’s believes in complexity of the world and futility of applying simple and primitive solutions to many complex problems of contemporary society. Author goes one by one through hot points of contemporary discussions, demonstrating that in complex world only multitude of specific decisions made by individuals for themselves could lead to improvement, while violent intervention by power crazy leftists via government directives could only hurt everybody, eventually leading to dramatic decline of society.
Chapter 1: Disparities and Prerequisites
Here author presents an idea that the result of any actions depends on combination of prerequisites and demands of the moment. For example someone with 5 prerequisites to achieve something that requires all 5 will achieve it, while everybody else with either any 1 or 4 prerequisites will fail. Since these prerequisites not always and not all depend on person’s effort, the achievement is combination of luck and effort. Author provides very interesting result of Harvard longitude study of men with very high IQ, which demonstrated low correlation between lifetime achievements and IQ. Another peace of empirical data is the variance in achievement between twins raised in the same family. There is also high level of correlation between birth sequence of individuals and their achievements, with earlier born having higher achievements. Author also analyses history of Jews as high achieving group and points out that it was case at the very specific time period when their prerequisites fit to circumstances. Author also applies this point for institutions and organizations, demonstrating the same evolutionary fitness or lack thereof. Finally author discusses implications of these ideas, stating that various factors help or hamper developments, but not define them deterministically neither for individuals nor for groups.
Chapter 2: Discrimination: Meanings and Costs
Author defines two types of Discrimination:
Type I:” The broader meaning is an ability to discern differences in the qualities of people and things, and choosing accordingly”. This pretty much means evaluate people as individuals – effective, but very costly and not always easily available process.
Type II: This means evaluate people based on their belonging to some group, automatically assigning real or perceived characteristics of this group to individual – ineffective and often harmful, but low cost, intuitive, and very speedy method.
Author also discusses what he calls Discrimination IB – discrimination based on small number of group characteristics. As example author provides assumption of low creditworthiness and high insurance rate in localities with high crime rate.
After that author discusses examples of discrimination with interesting patterns when clearly ideological racists fought against discrimination that was detrimental to their own well being, like demand for segregated railroad cars when there were not enough passengers to keep it profitable: for example enough whites to fill 0.5 of car and blacks to fill 1.5. With discrimination one needs 3 cars, 2 being half-empty, while without only 2 cars.
Chapter 3: Sorting and Unsorting People
This is about human tendency to settle among people who could help one to manage life challenges. Typically it is similar people and author discusses such sorting not only on ethnic or racial basis, but also within communities: sometimes by place of origin and sometimes by business similarities. Author also discusses assumption that people immediately make about others by appearance. He provides a couple stories about rich blacks professors causing fear because they are big and black before people recognize them as rich and educated. Author also discusses government imposed sorting that unlike self-sorting is not possible remediate by better knowledge about individual.
Author also discusses methods of unsorting: Education, Residential, and equal employment. In all cases author points out to distortion brought in by government intervention, which actually causes problem for people who are really trying to rise. For example government programs of subsidized housing often leads to placement of disturbing people into locations with lower middle class population who are paying full price for housing in these areas at great sacrifices to provide safe environment for their children, only to see government nullifying their efforts.
Chapter 4: The World of Numbers
This chapter is about manipulation of statistics to promote some bureaucratic and/or political agenda. This is very typical when used to find racism where there is none: either in income distribution, crime data, capital gains calculations, and so on. The implication of such manipulation is often false believes, political support for ineffective and even harmful measures, and waste of resources.
Chapter 5: The World of Words
This chapter is about manipulation of words similar to manipulation of data and used for the same purpose: promote some political agenda and direct public resources into whatever schema manipulators desire to promote. Author presents a number of examples of such manipulation such as “Diversity” use to promote racism, Ex Ante substituted based on Ex Post events like explaining someone’s achievement by some unspecified privileges that nobody could see before the achiever obtained results. Another contemporary innovation of the left is use of word “Violence” on context where no violence could be occurring like in response to words or images. There is the whole are of manipulation when manipulator targets some ridiculous idea or notion linking it to opponent’s position, even if opponent never subscribed to this idea. Examples are “Trickle down economics”, “Racism”, “White supremacism”, and many others. One interesting example of such use is “Freedom” used with meaning of absence of fear, poverty, and poor health, even if none of these has anything to do with freedom of person to obtain information, to express self, to get job to escape poverty, or use treatment to improve health.
Chapter 6: Social Visions and Human Consequences
This chapter is the critic of prevailing social vision that diminishes individuals responsibility for their prosperity, health, and wellbeing or lack thereof. It includes absolutely unfounded assumption that results for everybody should be the same and if they are not, then some politico-bureaucratic intervention is justified to enforce equality of results. Author then discusses typical human consequences of such interventions and notes how what he calls “toxic vision” completely blinds people who religiously cling to this vision despite reality of multitude of factual data demonstrating failures of their programs.
Chapter 7: Facts, Assumptions and Goals
Author starts this chapter by stating that his goal is not really propose solutions, but rather “provide enough clarification to enable others to make up their own minds about the inevitable claims and counter-claims sure to arise from those who are promoting their own notions or their own interests.”
Correspondingly he discusses:
- Meanings and prospects of equality, which is inexorably linked to question of merit vs. productivity: do people deserve to get something that other people produce or they should be productive to get something. Another point is inequality of languages some of which are more developed then others.
- Disparities: people represent not only their inherent qualities, but also background, which are in some circumstances beneficial, but in others detrimental.
- Culture: author compares Scandinavia with Middle East and then discusses issues of culture clash when people from Middle East immigrate to Scandinavia
- Process goals versus Outcome Goals: the former highly beneficial, creating conditions for people to obtain what they want, while latter highly detrimental, prompting people demand something they did not earn.
- Social Justice understood as“(1) the seemingly invincible fallacy that various groups would be equally successful in the absence of biased treatment by others, (2) the cause of disparate outcomes can be determined by where statistics showing the unequal outcomes were collected, and (3) if the more fortunate people were not completely responsible for their own good fortune, then the government—politicians, bureaucrats and judges—will produce either efficiently better or morally superior outcomes by intervening.
- The Past and the Future: the look at history is both frustrating and aspiring because it filled with examples of decline of highly developed societies and blossoming of previously dormant societies and peoples.
MY TAKE ON IT:
As nearly always with his other books, I agree with main points that Tomas Sowell makes in this book. However I think that his position of not looking for solution is not sufficient. Presenting intellectual and moral deficiencies of contemporary left and their “toxic vision” should be combined with presentation of another vision, which would go beyond just asking for less government intervention, but also demonstrating how to decrease it and how to make people left behind to fight people of the government in order to protect themselves and retain the freedoms they still have.
The main idea of this book is to present kind of pro-business manifesto that would reject typical attacks against business and present reasons to believe that overall role of business and specifically big corporations is a lot more positive, than many people believe.
- A New Pro-Business Manifesto
It starts with the simple statement that without business nothing in economy would be created or moved. Then author proceeds to extoll particular virtues of American Business such as superior management practices: “It has been estimated that Chinese firms could increase their productivity by 30 to 50 percent and Indian firms could do so by 40 to 60 percent merely by bringing the quality of their management practices up to American levels.” After that author compares American Business and Government and concludes that former clearly works better than latter. Finally he states that he was prompted to write this book by massive attack against business from the left and from the right that led to low level of trust that it has with American public, which is even worse than trust in nearly all other institutions:
At the end of chapter author expresses his believe that business deserves better trust and his intention to provide prove of it in this book.
- Are Businesses More Fraudulent Than the Rest of us?
The obvious response presented in this chapter is “NO”, the business is no more fraudulent than regular people and probably quite a bit less than public employees. Author discusses a number of studies confirming this and then moves into psychological research demonstrating that CEOs are more trusting than regular people. He also provides some interesting data obtained from cross-cultural research demonstrating that people more exposed to developed market economy are more honest.
- Are CEOs Paid Too Much?
Author position here is that CEO properly paid that much because their decisions have huge impact on success or failure of very big businesses and these decisions are highly non-trivial. He discusses skill set of the modern CEO and here is some really funny citation:”The CEO is the modern world’s equivalent of a successful philosopher, as a good CEO must have a reasonably well-rounded sense of nearly the entirety of the contemporary human experience, whether as worker, consumer, funder, media communicator, or political activist. In reality, there is no other job that is as—yes I will stick with that word—philosophical. Good CEOs are some of the world’s most potent creators and have some of the very deepest skills of understanding.
Author also refer to interesting research on what happens when CEOs dies. The usual consequence: companies lose at least some value. The final point in this chapter is author’s attempt invalidate usual view that CEO’s time span of planning is too short and they are sacrificing long term prospective for short term gains.
- Is Work Fun?
Author looks at polls demonstrating that work is not fun, but then at work time data demonstrating that people work now more hours than they used to. There was also an interesting research checking hormones of people during work hours and at home for stress. It turned out that being at home often is more stressful than work.
Author concedes that not everything is perfect in work places and there is not very nice staff about harassment, companies taking advantage of their workers using market power, and so on. However all this often comes not from company policy, but from other employees. At the end of chapter author compares different organizational forms and finds that coop is not that good either.
- How Monopolistic Is American Big Business?
The analysis here provides that business is by far less monopolistic than people think and that really big and bad monopoly are government monopolies such as K-12 education.
- Are the Big Tech Companies Evil?
Here author goes through usual litany of accusations and responds:
- Competition in high tech did not disappear
- Tech Companies continue innovating
- Internet and computers does not make humans stupid
However there is one area in which author does have a very serious concern: loss of privacy, and he discusses it in details.
- What Is Wall Street Good for, Anyway?
This chapter is response to wave of accusations against financial business, usually by people who have now clue about finance role in contemporary world. So author explains:
- VC drive innovation – no startups without money
- Companies shares allow people participate in financing business and benefit from stock appreciation
- Comparatively to other countries Americans are taxed less and have reliable banking system.
- American financial system did not grow unreasonably big, but rather grows in proportion to increased wealth of society when ratio of assets to income is growing all the time.
- Americans have huge benefit from the scale of their financial system because it supports global peace and prosperity by assuring money, goods, and services flow relatively unimpeded.
- Crony Capitalism: How Much Does Big Business Control the American Government
This chapter is about business influence on government, and author makes very valid point that government constantly interfere into business imposing demands and regulations, so all this lobbying is pretty much business self-defense against predatory politicians.
- If Business Is So Good, Why Is It So Disliked?
In the first part of this chapter author discusses anthropomorphizing corporations. The corporations encourage this attitude by using symbols that aim to personalize them as trusting friends and supporters. It is especially obvious no when corporations are active on social media and use AI to interact with customer via humanlike conversations and images. However there is downside from personalizing and it is ease with which corporation as personal friend could be turned into enemy. There is the whole industry, which is built on vilifying corporations – Hollywood. The movies usually based on fight between good and evil and humans who pay for entertainment associate with good in movies. Obviously the good had to be represented by humans, while evil could not. It had to be represented by some abstract entity like Nazis or Aliens or most often by soulless corporations. Similarly even if majority of people are corporate employees, they tend to perceive whatever good comes from their employment, as their fair deserve and whatever bad as expression of inhumane corporate nature. Author final word is about social responsibility of business and this is how he puts it: “And what, in turn, is the social responsibility of business? I don’t think there is a single concrete answer to that question except the following: the social responsibility of business is to come up with new and better conceptions of the social responsibility of business, ones that will both boost corporate profits and further other social ends, including prosperity and liberty. You might say the social responsibility of business is to come up with the magic of a vision that will help us trust it more, whether as consumers or as workers. Corporations won’t succeed all of the time at this, but American business, by enabling so much wealth creation and by creating so many new opportunities, arguably has outperformed any other set of private institutions in all of world history.”
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think that the whole idea of anthropomorphized corporation is very harmful for the society because it allows really bad people to hide beyond corporation and often denies good people appreciation that they truly deserve. There are very complex and historically deep reasons for corporations obtaining personality including some legal and human rights like sue and being sued and recently even free speech. I personally think that this structure is outdated and just remains from time when it was impossibly to process information to the human individual level so one had to trust brand name of corporation or sue corporation for negligence of individual working for it. I think over the next few dozen years this approach will be gone and reward or punishment for good or bad actions would be directed not at the abstract corporation, but at the specific human actors.
I generally agree with author in his description and rejection of typical accusations against corporations, except for CEOs income. With all justifications that author provides, the reality is that CEO compensation decided by boards appointed by CEOs, consistent of current and formers CEO, who, quite normally, view the world through CEOs lenses. If we remove possibility of CEOs as a group having infinitely higher moral standards than general population, which in my view is negligible, we should expect them to pay themselves out of investors’ pocket as much as legal system would allow. However taxes are not a reasonable way to go because taxes just mean that resources transferred from corporate bureaucrats to government bureaucrats, which generally are usually lot less competent. Similarly any limitations on CEO compensation only serve to direct efforts at avoiding such limitations instead running corporation to benefit of owners. The only reasonable way, in my view, would be create direct and simple link between company performance and CEO actions in such way that poor performance would guarantee low levels of compensation, unlike stock options, which quite often provide enormous compensation for average performance and huge compensation for poor performance.