the company of strangers
Changes in the economy mean changes in the patterns of relationships between us as individuals, and therefore between companies.
This means changes in whom we trust, both individually and institutionally. This is the stuff of Paul Seabright's The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life (2004). Interviewed here, his arguments in the book rests on 'four pillars':
- First, the unplanned but sophisticated coordination of modern industrial societies is a remarkable fact that needs explanation. Nothing in our species' biological evolution has shown us to have any talent or taste for dealing with strangers.
- Second, this explanation is to be found in the presence of institutions that make human beings willing to treat strangers as honorary friends.
- Third, when human beings come together in the mass, the unintended consequences are sometimes very impressive, sometimes very troubling.
- Fourth, the very talents for cooperation and rational reflection that could provide solutions to our most urgent problems are also the source of our species' terrifying capacity for organized violence between groups. Trust between groups needs as much human ingenuity as trust between individuals.