It’s hard to believe that current systems are the best we can do. We could be thriving as communities and societies, rather than facing extreme risks. It’s time to investigate what might work better.

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It’s not news that human civilization and ecosystems are at risk of collapse in our lifetime or that of our children. Biologists, sociologists, ecologists and others have been issuing dire warnings for easily half a century on all the big issues. We’re well aware of them: climate change, habitat loss, pollution, topsoil degradation, groundwater depletion, rising rates of species extinction, financial meltdown, poverty and wealth inequality, and nuclear war, to name a few. …


What future shall we choose? Equality or inequality? Deep democracy or more limited forms? Sustainability and wise stewardship of resources, or exploitation for profit? You have a good idea of where current systems are taking us. A viable alternative path exists, and that path is science based.

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In March 2018, Bloomberg news reported that income inequality in the United States had hit a disturbing new high. Not unlike atmospheric carbon dioxide, income and wealth inequality in the United States have been rising since at least the 1980s, under Democratic and Republican presidents, and Democratic and Republican Congresses. The Occupy Wall Street movement crystallized public attention on inequality in 2011 with its slogan “We are the 99 percent.” In 2014 the French economist Thomas Piketty wrote a masterful book on the subject that became a global best seller. His take-home message? …


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Author’s note: This proposal is a lightly edited copy of my entry for the 2018 New Shape Prize, a worldwide contest aimed at discovering new ideas that could improve global governance and reduce societal risks. My proposal was not selected to be a finalist and I am publishing it here in hopes that it might stimulate a wider global conversation about the suitability of current governance systems and how we might go about developing ones that better reduce risks, solve important problems, and serve the common good.

I define governance systems broadly to include electoral and legislative systems proper, but also economic/financial and legal/justice systems, and more. I view all as one large “social choice” or “decision-making” system—the rules and mechanisms by which a community or society self-organizes to direct group activity. …


Societies can solve important problems. Doing so is the essence of sustainability. But systems innovation is necessary.

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Why do many people hold concepts of democracy and capitalism dear, even as institutions based on them fail to solve or adequately address a host of social and environmental problems, and might be part of their cause? Witness climate change, poverty, income inequality, habitat loss, debt accumulation, pollution, and financial instability, among others.

Unsolved problems like these tend to accumulate and worsen. Scientists, for example, warn that the sixth mass extinction may have begun. It’s little wonder then that public confidence in institutions has fallen. Today, less than a third of the US public has substantial confidence in major institutions, and among the least trusted are Congress and Big Business. …


By viewing a society as a problem-solving superorganism, the natural sciences and technology sector can go wild with possibilities. Designs of economic, governance, and legal systems fall into their domain.

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We celebrate disruptive technologies like the PC, the Internet, and the Internet-connected smartphone because they empower us. They allow us to do things that would have been unimaginable to past generations. Investors celebrate disruptive technologies for the profit they promise — or fear them for the losses they could generate.

It’s no wonder then that experts across all fields remain vigilant for the Next Big Thing. On the watch lists are robotics, the Internet of Things, 3-D printing, artificial intelligence, and others. …


We can ask the big question: Out of all conceivable economic system designs, which ones might be best at helping us to focus on and solve problems that matter?

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Living wage is heating up as an issue. According to the New York Times, 19 states raised their minimum wage in 2017. So, too, are people debating the idea of universal basic income, usually conceived as a monthly cash payment (perhaps equivalent to around a thousand US dollars) that a government gives unconditionally to all its adult citizens. Pilot programs have already launched or are being planned in multiple countries, including Scotland and Canada. …


The designs of current economic and governance systems may be inadequate to solve pressing problems. Ideas from complex systems science can help us re-conceptualize.

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Background and Motivation

In December 2016, Steven Hawking sounded the alarm on inequality and other pressing problems that he warned could destroy civilization and the ecosystem before we humans are technically capable of escaping into space. He’s in good company. In 2015 Gerardo Ceballos et al. warned that the sixth mass extinction may have already begun. …


Current economic systems are dismal because they waste our precious time. We can pause to reevaluate, and redesign.

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It’s not often that a scientist gets to use the words love, creativity, and wisdom in a paper, especially when writing about economics. Perhaps that’s because economics, the dismal science, is obsessed with dismal systems — make that abysmal systems, relative to need.

To be clear, I’m not speaking of the specific policies of the US, the EU, China, the World Bank or others. …

About

John Boik

Author, Economic Direct Democracy: A Framework to End Poverty and Maximize Well-Being. Founder, Principled Societies Project.

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