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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


by Mike Neuenschwander ~ February 27, 2009.
Permalink | Filed under: Hybrid Vigor, Social Trust Online.

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.


  1. David Beach

    Mike, your dad might’ve been on the right track. The generations seem to be on an entropic trajectory. Have you read Fromm’s ‘To Have or To Be’? He essentially speaks to the suggestion posed in your concluding paragraph.

    Anyway, thanks for your searching. Just came across your blog today for the first time.


  2. Mike Neuenschwander

    Hi David,

    Welcome to the blog! Sorry to say, I haven’t yet read “To Have or To Be.” Thanks for the suggestion-I’ll give it a read!


  3. The Hybrid Vigor Institute | hybridvigor.net

    [...] to human liberty is an egregious overloading of the word “free.” As we consider how to reinvent free-market systems, it’s critical to distinguish between free markets and freedom. We can retain civil liberties [...]

  4. Alfred Moya

    where is the critical thinking here?

  5. TRUST IN THE AGE OF CAPITALISM « The Hybrid Vigor Institute | hybridvigor.net

    [...] altered, the names will change, but the roles will remain the same. Instead, our aim should be to mature the game of American Capitalism rather than to supplant [...]

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