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Economics

Is the Serengeti socialist?

I often hear the free market being compared to the dangerous African plains, with predators waiting to spoil your every endeavour and rob you of liberty and life for ‘selfish’ personal gain. It does not seem to occur to many that in a truly free market system nobody actually dies as a result of another’s gain.

To the extent that wars are fought for commercial reasons, they are waged in support of socialism and corporatism, not capitalism. Free trade fosters friendship, investment and interdependence, all of which make armed conflict less likely.

If a firm goes out of business, the products and employment they provided are taken up, often in small and imperceptible ways, by other, better run firms. In this creative destruction we might see a “circle of life”, but it comes without bloodshed or coercion.

While the free market is often portrayed as predatory, life in business has little in common with life on the savannah. For all the intricacy of the ecosystem, very few creatures produce in order to consume. The overwhelming majority take what they need to sustain life from others. In their zero-sum world, even herbivores profit at each other’s expense, competing over greenery they did not cultivate.

If the Serengeti were a free market, each creature would enter into voluntary exchanges requiring advanced thinking and planning, and instead of fighting over a fixed natural bounty, the animals would expand their resources to the benefit of all. Of course, even if non-human animals were capable of such planning, trade between species is hard to imagine. The gazelle has nothing to offer the lion but its flesh, which it is disinclined to provide. And nobody wants what the lions produce, except perhaps the vultures!

Cooperative planning is most often shown in nature by ‘social’ predator species – lions, wolves, killer whales. They conspire to coerce, and so have more in common with socialist planners than free marketeers.

It is interesting, then, to consider how wildlife documentaries are produced. When a lion is injured or killed by a herbivore, the presenters rarely show the full footage as it is too ‘disturbing’ and sympathies are extended to lionesses and cubs, yet we are treated to young herbivores being torn to shreds in front of our eyes — necessary for “nature’s healthy balance” to be maintained. Those at the top are to be protected and revered in their rightful place. The rest are there to be exploited.

5 comments to Is the Serengeti socialist?

  • Mr Ed

    Lions produce dung, urine and shed hair. Flies and beetles benefit, but otherwise, it is like a Soviet system of a power struggle with factions, with the losers dying.

    There is in fact an abstracted harmony of rightly understood interests, as if the lions were to say to the wildebeest: You eat that grass for us to have some meat, and we’ll keep the herd from getting too big to over-graze. I suspect that the wildebeest would prefer family planning.

    In brief, all tax-eaters are animals, little above the fanged and horned beast.

  • Lions do produce dung, urine and hair but from the death of a herbivore that gained nothing from the forced exchange.

    In the absence of lions, (and other carnivores), the limiting factor on Wildebeest would be food supply. I suspect Wildebeest would prefer the fruits of their own endeavors, confiscating grass, to being ever on hyper-alert for an Elite predator from an Elite Party…

    Glad you got the humour…

  • Paul Marks Paul Marks

    Good article.

    This “the free market is the law of the jungle (or of the serengeti)” stuff is false.

    Indeed it is the exact opposite of the truth.

    Using force and fear is the way of STATISM – not the free market. The free market is voluntary (civil) interaction.

  • Croydonius

    Great article. Also interesting that even the beasts of the Serengeti instinctively recognise the Laffer curve. Lions only consume some of what is available, rather than killing everything they see. Having eaten their fill they will happily sit under a tree and watch the world pass by.

  • Mr Ed

    Yes, the Lions simply ‘collectivise’ the Wildebeest, from each according to his meatiness, er.., ability, to each according to the sharpness of his teeth, or political connections.

    I often say to employers facing employee litigation that they are like the Wildebeest on the Serengeti, with predatory (normally ex-) employees seeking some flesh.

    The lawyers are like Hyenas, who can intimidate a lion off a kill by hunting in packs, one leg bite and the lion is lame.

    The vultures, the DWP officials who claim back Job Seeker’s (as if they do) Allowance from the losing employer when the compensation is paid for Unfair Dismissal.

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