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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.