The Origins of Political Order

Francis Fukuyama (2013)

FrancisFukuyama_OriginsOfPoliticalOrder We should probably forgive the odd lapse in detail when it comes to grande, sweeping narratives. And The Origins of Political Order is definitely that. The book is the first in Francis Fukuyama’s two-volume attempt at an account and explanation of the evolution of political institutions. The work is peppered with statements like, “There does not seem to be any evidence that a true matriarchal society has ever existed”. Either Fukuyama is unaware of the hotly contested question and literature around paleolithic matriarchy, or he decided to gloss over it. Oversights such as these detracted from my enjoyment, in large part because they dented my confidence that Fukuyama had done his homework as thoroughly as most of the reviewers are saying he did.

But enough cheap criticism, what about content? One of the main things Origins has led me to ponder is what the institutional repercussions of  zero-growth (a.k.a. the ‘steady-state economy’) would look like. Fukuyama thinks that there are basically three ways a society can grow economically. The first is through the acquisition of uninhabited lands and unused resources. Extensive growth. The second is through predation of other societies: the infamous zero-sum game. And lastly, there’s intensive growth through increasing productivity of society by means of technological- and other ‘internal’ advancement.

Now imagine a gedankenexperiment where pressure from human population growth and ‘globalisation’ has eliminated the scope for extensive growth: all resources are fully utilised. Next, assume that for some reason further intensive growth has been halted. In other words, productivity growth has plateaued, as some non-mainstream folk are predicting, and some are even endorsing. In a world such as this, individuals cannot count on the future or unexplored territories to provide them with increasing wealth. Lastly, throw in one final assumption: that a significant subset of individuals have a – what shall we call it? – proclivity towards increasing their wealth.

This gedankenexperiment led me to a very rudimentary thought: for large societies like ours today, would stagnant growth inexorably lead to highly stratified equilibria?

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