“Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and who turns to others in order to make up his mind.”
— René Girard
In a universe parallel to ours, there was an Irish elk named Jim.
Jim graduated from a small liberal arts college in the midwest with a degree in economics. And — surprise! — he has no idea what he wants to do. Following friends, he moves to Chicago and gets a studio.
One day, Jim goes to a coffee shop. He runs into an old family friend, Max. The two of them grew up together. Jim asks Max what he’s doing in Chicago. …
Approximately 11,000 years ago, the Irish elk roamed the land we now call Siberia. I like to think of their story as a parable for understanding the burnout epidemic.
The male elk, or bulls, who were born with a mutation that gave them slightly larger antlers than the rest would win fights with other bulls over mates and could more easily fend off predators. Eventually, these bulls developed a selective advantage and were more likely to pass along their genetic material to the larger population. And so with each generation, the species’ antlers grew.
But then the problems began.
At their peak, bulls’ antlers measured up to 12 feet across. They became a hindrance, especially when trying to evade predators in densely-wooded areas. Unable to shrink in size to adjust, the species went extinct. …
In his book, The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good, economist Robert H. Frank makes the bold assertion that in 100 years, economists will cite Charles Darwin — not Adam Smith — as the father of the discipline.
Darwin was one of the first to perceive the underlying problem with markets clearly. One of his central insights was that natural selection favors traits and behaviors primarily according to their effect on individual organisms, not larger groups.
Darwin observed this problem in nature, noting that natural selection often favored mutations that benefited individuals relative to the rest of their species, but harmed the species as a whole. …