Daily Archives: January 28, 2020

What if Competition Isn’t As “Natural” As We Think?

By John Favini – “The struggle for life,” Darwin deduced, would naturally select those beings whose hereditary mutations made them most fit to a specific environment. Over successive generations, scientists came to see the driving force behind evolution as perpetual competition between discrete individuals, a biological arms race to eat and reproduce in a world of scarcity.

Fast forward a century and a half, and “survival of the fittest”—the expression social theorist Herbert Spencer coined to sum up Darwin’s thinking—is as much a cultural cliché as it is a scientific theory. Hell, your worst colleague at the office might even offer it as a justification for his one-upmanship. More than just a cliché, though, the supposed naturalness of competition has played a central role in substantiating the laissez-faire variety of capitalism the majority of the American political spectrum has championed for the past four or so decades.

Indeed, any non-market-based solution to social issues usually falls prey to claims of utopianism, of ignoring the fundamental selfishness of the human species. Advocates for welfare programs, for instance, often run up against criticism that their policy proposals fail to understand to importance of “losing,” that they lessen the stakes of the competition innate to human social life.

Similarly, collectively owned spaces or institutions (like communal land trusts or co-ops) are often presumed short-lived or inefficient, doomed to suffer the “tragedy of the commons” as the innate self-interest of each member leads to an overuse of collective resources—a thesis that has been debunked again and again since its first articulation by Garrett Hardin in 1968.

To put it simply, we have let Darwinism set the horizon of possibility for human behavior. Competition has become a supposed basic feature of all life, something immutable, universal, natural.

Yet new research from across various fields of study is throwing the putative scientific basis of this consensus into doubt. Mind you, there have always been people, scientists and otherwise, who conceived of life outside a Darwinian paradigm—the idea of evolutionary biology is and has been a conversation among a mostly white and male global elite. Yet, even within centers of institutional power, like universities in North America, competition’s position as the central force driving evolution has been seriously challenged recently. In fact, criticisms have been mounting at least since biologist Lynn Margulis began publishing in the late ’60s

Put simply, life is beginning to look ever more complex and ever more collaborative. All this has fractured Western biology’s consensus on Darwin. In response to all these new insights, some biologists instinctively defend Darwin, an ingrained impulse from years of championing his work against creationists. Others, like Margulis herself, feel Darwin had something to offer, at least in understanding the animal world, but argue his theories were simplified and elevated to a doctrine in the generations after his passing.

Others are chartering research projects that depart from established Darwinian thinking in fundamental ways—like ornithologist Richard Prum, who recently authored a book on the ways beauty, rather than any utilitarian measure of fitness, shapes evolution. Indeed, alongside the research I have explored here, works by scientists like Carl Woese on horizontal gene transfer and new insights from epigenetics have pushed some to advocate for an as-yet-unseen “Third Way,” a theory for life that is neither creationism nor Neo-Darwinian evolution. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Five ways that ESG creates value
Getting your environmental, social, and governance (ESG) proposition right links to higher value creation.
By Witold Henisz, Tim Koller, and Robin Nuttall – Your business, like every business, is deeply intertwined with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns. It makes sense, therefore, that a strong ESG proposition can create value—and in this article, we provide a framework for understanding the five key ways it can do so.

Just as ESG is an inextricable part of how you do business, its individual elements are themselves intertwined. For example, social criteria overlaps with environmental criteria and governance when companies seek to comply with environmental laws and broader concerns about sustainability. Our focus is mostly on environmental and social criteria, but, as every leader knows, governance can never be hermetically separate. Indeed, excelling in governance calls for mastering not just the letter of laws but also their spirit—such as getting in front of violations before they occur, or ensuring transparency and dialogue with regulators instead of formalistically submitting a report and letting the results speak for themselves.

Thinking and acting on ESG in a proactive way has lately become even more pressing. The US Business Roundtable released a new statement in August 2019 strongly affirming business’s commitment to a broad range of stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and, of course, shareholders.

Of a piece with that emerging zeitgeist, ESG-oriented investing has experienced a meteoric rise. Global sustainable investment now tops $30 trillion—up 68 percent since 2014 and tenfold since 2004.

The acceleration has been driven by heightened social, governmental, and consumer attention on the broader impact of corporations, as well as by the investors and executives who realize that a strong ESG proposition can safeguard a company’s long-term success. The magnitude of investment flow suggests that ESG is much more than a fad or a feel-good exercise. more>

Updates from Ciena

The next sports phenomenon requires the network
The latest sports craze doesn’t involve a ball or a helmet, it’s esports, and it is filling arenas and drawing millions of online fans. Ciena’s Kevin Sheehan tells the story of his recent experience at ESL One, and how massive online events like these require a network that defeats all challengers.
By Kevin Sheehan – As the gaming industry grows to become a $152 billion-a-year giant, with over 2.5 billion gamers globally, video games have evolved way beyond casual entertainment. We are now talking about esports – competitive multiplayer electronic games played by professional athletes for substantial cash prizes. Tournaments like ESL One attract thousands of spectators, and millions of fans streaming the event live.

ESL One was held at Barclays Center, a massive arena that several NBA and NHL teams call home. The seats were full, and big names sponsored the event. The enthusiastic crowd loudly supported their favorite teams, and also demanded a high degree of interaction with the game and the gamers. They and the millions streaming remotely will make comments on game play, play the game, and interact with each other and the players all in real time.

I was enthralled as I watched eight of the world’s best Counter-Strike Global Offensive teams square off. There was an enormous, high-definition screen above the teams that cycled through each player’s field-of-view on the battlefield, while three announcers (yep 3) rapidly called the play-by-play and provided color commentary.

I wondered, what are the network requirements for ESL to create the robust and secure infrastructure that makes all this possible? In a strange way, the network is on display during this live tournament almost like an NBA superstar’s shooting ability. If an image locked, frames are dropped, or a weapon doesn’t fire on cue, the world will see, and “the network” would be to blame. And don’t forget, there is a lot of money on the line. more>


Updates from Chicago Booth

The questions that will shape the future of capitalism
Advocates of free markets must engage in the public debate about them
By John Paul Rollert – What is the promise of capitalism?

That may seem like a strange question, and when I ask it of my MBAs, I suspect they regard it as an exercise in the pedagogical pastime Guess What Teacher Is Thinking. Still I ask it, for I hope it prompts my students to think about the kinds of problems capitalism is equipped to solve as well as those that are beyond its compass.

This is hardly a matter of idle speculation, especially for those who have good reason to believe that they will someday enjoy a disproportionate amount of the system’s spoils. Those fortunate individuals sometimes need to be reminded that free markets, however mighty, will not mend their marriage, relieve their cold, or stop their brother-in-law from bragging about his golf game. Indeed, there are plenty of things capitalism can’t do, and reflecting on them is a good way of distinguishing what it can do—and what it should.

Naturally, what capitalism can and should do are not one and the same. The first is a technical matter best left to economists; the second is more of an ideological affair, the province of moral and political philosophy. The distinction is an important one, but it tends to fade whenever one believes that free markets will solve most any problem: moral, social, and political as well as economic. If capitalism can do anything, so the thinking goes, then it should do everything.

Now, with the kind of intellectual prodding the question above intends, almost no one honestly believes that capitalism can, or should, do everything. Yet up until recently, it passed for conventional wisdom, in the United States and throughout most of the developed world, that capitalism could do most things, that the obvious solution to nearly any pressing problem of social organization was freer trade, fewer regulations, and far less government intervention. more>