Its getting longer, and longer between the posts, isn’t it? I blame Game of Thrones!
Anyways, I read this post on Marginal Revolution on how the world has become nicer, and there are people who just don’t do well in a nice world. He has a point, but I have a similar, but sort of economic explanation.
I first thought of this when I was reading Sapiens. I think I have said this before here? Surely, if banks go bust every thirty years or so, with some regularity, bankers should have figured out things by now, and changed? But, as Peter Pronovost was saying in a Coursera course I was watching the other day, every system is perfectly designed for the results it gets. Modern banking, with frequent failures built into the system, has got us into the modern world. So maybe those failures are a feature and not a bug?
Think of the investment bankers you know. Or at least, the ones I know. Without exception, they are bright, smart, well brought up middle class kids (the kind of people Tyler Cowen called nice). These kids have had a typically safe childhood, free of bad things and bad people. Their parents generally keep their promises, and provide safe spaces. A childhood like that makes you well-disposed towards fellow humans, makes you trust. Trust, remember, is the currency banking operates in.The whole imaginary edifice of money rests on trust, and- and this is the important bit- when it meets reality, and fails, governments step in and bails it out. By naively- or maybe shrewdly- trusting everyone, bankers have created a world in which someone will always repay their money.
When you get a world which runs on trust, the only way to do well in it is to play the cooperation game. One must be “trustworthy”. One must be “nice”. Must default to cooperate when forced to choose between that and defecting. There is that only way to win.
Which is problematic for the kids who do not learn to trust. Distrust is our default human emotion, being around my daughter has taught me that. In the absence of the safety nets of young childhood, people may never learn to trust blindly, and do not do well in such a trust soaked world.
Also, since I cannot think for 10 minutes without bringing in Game of Thrones, look at Westeros. Anyone half-way competent is either dead, or dismissed as unimportant because they do not function well in a power based society. To borrow from Taleb, that has made Westeros fragile, and so vulnerable to outside threats. Just look at Sansa once she has found someone she trusts and who has the power to defend her. In a nice world people would have worked together and the White Walkers would simply not be the existential threat they have become. Ramsay and Roose can outmaneuver the Starks, yes. But that’s not the point of Game of Thrones (unlike, say, House of Cards). The point was that the Starks could have, and probably still can, deal with the White Walkers. And to circle back to my earlier point, the Starks have had safe, uncomplicated, pleasant childhoods, as children of a powerful, and very nice parents.