The theme in that post was that early human societies developed to benefit their members. Our institutions have since grown so complex that they have lost touch with this purpose. Nowadays, they seem to serve practically everyone and everything but the ordinary citizen, and it's about time to set that right.
But recently, I've been prattling on about the arcane world of measurement - how we try to motivate people into certain behaviors by selective measurement of success. So, why is this important, and what's the connection?
The root problem is that governments and corporations are not motivated to think about ordinary individuals, let alone put their interests first. And why should they? I've talked a lot about measurement in various forms, and how often it leads to unwanted consequences, and here we see it in all its ugliness. Our world is the consequence of powerful measurements that reduce us to papers in ballot boxes and numbers on the bottom line. These organizations cannot possibly think of us as anything other than voters or consumers.
Which is scary, because these organizations dominate out lives.
My sense of hope is that we can take back control. That we can institute new ways of measuring success that will achieve beneficial outcomes for ordinary citizens.
For example, what if leaders and policymakers in education were recognized and rewarded not on exam pass rates in schools, but on some entirely independent measure of how well educated the general population was? What if the leaders and policymakers in healthcare were rewarded not by short waiting lists and how many drugs they can push, but according to the overall health of the general population? After all, that is what we pay them for, isn't it?
And what if the profitability of corporations was intrinsically tied to the net benefits they bring to the society in which they operate? This last example is a distinct shift in focus. What is the purpose of a car manufacturer? Is it to sell as many cars as possible, or is it to offer people the benefit of easy and convenient transport without inflicting undue harm in the process? Is the purpose of a grocery store to push produce, or to feed the local population? Because the profit & loss account is the only measure that matters today, corporate behavior leans towards the former end of the spectrum rather than the (IMO more desirable) latter end.
I spent some time examining measurement in the last few posts in order to show that this is no easy task. It is, after all, what many well-meaning people have been trying to do all along. They just haven't been very successful.
We need measures that are appropriate, which tell a rounded story, and which cannot easily be fudged.
To do that, we need to elevate the dark alchemy that is practiced (somewhat haphazardly) today into a precise science.
There's enough research into human psychology that I reckon we have a good handle on what makes individuals tick, but individuals are not really the problem. The problem is in the emergent phenomena that crop up at all sorts of levels when people get together into larger and larger groups, and the groups themselves start interacting and showing their own unique behaviors.
This is where the world has run out of control.