(Also, Steven, I'm going to steal your idea of using a picture up front)
|Finding the path of least resistance, within a given set of parameters|
It was a nice read; agreeable, approachable, comprehensive. I daresay I actually enjoyed it (of course, I may be biased, as it did cater to me here an there with some scientific references). Although the essay has, as Steven has already stated, illuminated topics we've already examined as a group, it nevertheless offered something that I think we can all appreciate: Salient points with relative brevity. For that, I am thankful. In fact, I'm always thankful when someone can put into perfect words things I've tried to poorly articulate with my own. In short, it was nice to read someone back up my own thoughts with such eloquence!
(Also, you'll have to forgive my incessant use of scientifically-derived points. I know that economics and sciences are fields deserving of their own discourse, but I'm having loads of trouble divorcing the two in my mind! Bear with me, science is how I rationalize economics...) Anyway, to the meat!
One of my favorite examples is why planets are spherical, as opposed to say, square or pyramidal: Under the fundamental laws of physics, a spherical shape is the least energetically taxing for a body of mass (or energy, if you want to get quantum) to maintain. Even though planets could technically form into geodesic domes (there's no physical law to stop them, as geodesic domes are capable of existing), taking a spherical shape requires the least amount of effort, and imposes the least amount of entropy. There's spontaneous order right there! Given some unwavering parameters, recurring patterns will emerge out of the paths of least resistance.
Once orders are established, they basically "reset" their environment. Now, the newly established order has some say in how new order is going to emerge; they can add some parameters. Any new order will have to have a comparative advantage at surviving within all the parameters, including the new ones. Using the planet example, because planets are spherical (and most likely rotate on an axis), anything that exists on the planet will have to deal with the parameter that the planet is spherical and will spin. Tides are a good example. All of the ordered complexity (ecosystem, organisms, rock formations, etc.) that exists in a tidal pool is at the mercy of Earth being round, and spinning on an axis. Plants too, have adapted their brand of order around the Earth being a rotating sphere (intervals of light). This same idea of parameter introduction is certainly the case for evolution, and is also the case for atoms, planets, cells, organisms, and societies. The point here is that increasing magnitudes of order are nested; more order introduces new parameters.
With all that in mind, you can bet your barn that those that survive (be them animate or inanimate) are the "laziest" of all the options, or the "most innovative," if you like the way that sounds better. In other words, those patterns of order that survive in their environment are doing so most efficiently; they're economizing the best. They're are undoubtedly using their resources more effectively, they're wasting less energy, and they most likely have a comparative advantage of existing, or at least surviving in the midst of some unwavering parameters. If they do a good job, they can propagate themselves, and thereby create a new standard of order, that others will have to adhere to if they too wish to survive effectively!
The next step in this discussion is to introduce the idea of "forced parameters," or parameters that do not come out of order that has earned its title by standing the tests of its environment, and spontaneously pattern-izing. Nature doesn't have too many of these, because there's no one entity in charge of nature, and most order is spontaneously-derived. Humans, on the other hand, have a TON! We've universally accepted a few parameters regarding our behavior, but we have many parameters that have been designed and not naturally-derived. Government is a prime example: government imposes designed order upon subjects. The issue with this is that the order is not derived from patterns that emerged spontaneously from the environment, but rather try to force patterns. Now, you and I can both intuitively guess that this is counter-intuitive. Human design rarely takes into full account the ways in which we can, as a society, follow the path of least resistance. Often times, it tries to force societies to expend more, while effectively receiving less (which is against the very nature or order). What we see happening, however, are paths of least resistance forming around such forced parameters in such a way that effectively nulls them. It's like we know when a forced parameter is forced, and we can "spontaneously order" it away. Black markets, for example, are a path of least resistance against the government's forced parameter of "banned illegal substances." Instances like this are why I believe many anarchists support a government-free society; government only seems to stand in the way of spontaneous order. In fact, because more of society's energy goes into circumventing forced parameters, one could even make the argument that forced parameters stunt the growth of ordered systems, as their attention, energy, and focus are being diverted away from actual parameters.
So isn't economics just human behavior dictating what is the best course of action for the least expenditure of energy or resources? Isn't all economics just the study of a collective adaptation? When we observe economic phenomena, aren't we really just watching a stream's race down the path of least resistance? Anything that is offered to humans (on a societal scale) is attacked with the least amount of energy and resources we deem at all appropriate to use. We're optimizers of function; innovators of ease; slaves to order.