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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine

archive for February, 2009


by ~ February 27, 2009

I remember as a teenager picking up a rather challenging book I discovered in a box of my dad’s university materials: Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm. The book’s ambitious attempt to analyze the psychology of an entire nation (namely, wartime Germany) made me wonder whether every nation couldn’t use a little time on the proverbial couch.

So as we struggle to understand the causes of the current recession, I think it’s time to put America on that couch and—treating the nation as a superorganism—construct the psychological profile of America. Unfortunately, I’m in no position to do that sort of analysis (and for that matter, it’s not clear anyone is). But in true American spirit, I’ll do it anyway.

Non-Americans find evidence of neurotic behaviors in American activity, from simple delusion to societal narcissism and collective obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). My unprofessional opinion is simply that we’re a nation in adolescence exhibiting adolescent behaviors. As President Obama put it, “we remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.” So what are the childish things that America needs to put away? In my view, it’s time to mature the game of American Capitalism.

The premise of American Capitalism, as it’s been played for the last century, is a zero-sum game based on rational choice theory. It is a game characterized by the baser social emotions such as greed, envy, schadenfreude, resentment, and triumphalism. It is a game in which trust is a sucker’s trait. Granted: compared to authoritarian regimes of the past, American Capitalism offers some evolutionary advantages. But since American Capitalism both ignores and interferes with social interactions for building trust, it is a game at odds with the sociality we depend on for survival. And in a declining economy, the game degenerates into a negative-sum game in which individuals save themselves by trampling on the backs of others.

The economic crisis forces a decisive moment on our young nation: should we escape the freedoms of capitalism and revert to authoritarian society, or can we find a way to mature the game of capitalism?

Reinventing American Capitalism offers nostalgic allure, because America is seeped in the lore of invention and experimentation. But in an uncertain economy, many will find reinventing the hallmarks of American society too risky and too tedious to bail us out of our predicament. So what will our post-adolescent society choose: “go with what you know” or pioneering a new capitalism?

For my part, I hope we revisit and reinvent the game of capitalism. Moving past zero-sum capitalism is theoretically possible; game theorists cite examples of positive-sum arrangements in every-day life. But so far none of these games have been field-tested in widespread economic use. So before we can shift a massive economy onto a new form of capitalism, we’ll first need to vet out viable strategies.

Fortunately, the Internet can work as a kind of super-collider that helps social scientists unravel the rudimentary components of trust. The Internet enables us to form diverse communities rapidly, introduce environmental variables, monitor behaviors, and investigate community outcomes. Through this kind of research, it may be possible to develop a kind of “trust protocol” that is applicable to a wide range of interactions from financial transactions to social networking. By understanding elements of trust, we may be able to construct a new kind of capitalism, one that avoids the faults and tragedies of youth.


by ~ February 10, 2009

I came across this article today, and it seems to fit the theme of this blog perfectly. Here’s a teaser from the last paragraph:

“Maybe storytelling - from TV to folk tales - actually serves some specific evolutionary function,” says Gottschall. “They’re not just by-products of evolutionary adaptation.”


by ~ February 3, 2009

The OWASP mailing list has been abuzz since Google inadvertently added warnings to all search results reading: “this site may harm your computer.” Surfers were often unable to access the sites by clicking links in the Google search results. This was caused by “human error”: a simple 1-character typo. In a world where fortunes are made and lost based on their Google ranking, and that ranking is subject to typos, perhaps the feds should have greater oversight of the Google’s operations? United Airlines would likely agree.

On another note: Great commentary in the WSJ yesterday about the tone of the Obama administration. The piece explores in depth a caution I offered in a recent post. The last paragraph of the commentary sums it up pretty well:

And that, along with those trumpeting declarations to the world that new leadership had now come to the United States, that we were now a nation worthy of the world’s trust — those speeches suggesting that after years of darkness America had now been rescued, just barely, from the abyss — will be in the end this president’s Achilles’ heel. Those are not, Mr. Obama may discover, tones that wear well in the course of a presidency.