Tag Archives | hobbes

Review: The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest

The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest
The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest by Yochai Benkler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yochai Benkler’s brief and approachable book takes issue with the founding premises of many of our institutions that humans are in general not to be trusted and that we need strong authority and incentives to keep us in line lest we run amok. He seeks to show us that our basic nature, though far from perfect, is far more cooperative and altruistic than is commonly thought.

Benkler makes his case using a range of detailed examples, many of which will be familiar to readers of other work of this nature. In fact, The Penguin and the Leviathan can be regarded as something of a synthesis of Michael Sandel’s ‘What Money Can’t Buy’, Jonathan Haidt’s ‘The Righteous Mind’ and Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe’s ‘Practical Wisdom.’ In my opinion these are all better books in their own right, but the value of Benkler’s offering is that it puts together many of their disparate insights in a sustained and focused way. That this book is coming from a business/economics/technology background in itself makes this a worthwhile and encouraging contribution.

Benkler seems alive too to the darker side of cooperative behaviour, though this is not sufficiently developed in my view. Overall though, The Penguin and the Leviathan provides a measured, accessible and persuasive take on the age-old problem of how to design organisational systems that bring out the best in humanity. It’s a great, up-to-date starting place for anyone with an interest in this question.



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Unhobbling Democracy

Politics is failing. The public square in Australia, like so many other Western countries, is a broken and desolate place. Danu sifts through the wreckage looking for clues, and wonders how committed we really are to democratic citizenship.

It is now de rigueur to make the observation in Australia (and numerous other countries) that faith and trust in politics and especially our political leaders has deteriorated to what must surely be an all-time low. That the only box voters are prepared to tick is the one marked ‘None of the Above’.

This will either resonate with you or it won’t. In any case, plenty of ink has been spilled on the subject elsewhere, especially in diagnosing (and misdiagnosing) its causes and effects and I feel no urge to expend much effort arguing the proposition further here. I actually want to talk about democracy, but it will help to keep this disillusionment in mind.

It is interesting that Australia’s current government in particular should be especially pilloried — the object of a pitch and tenor of grumbling and derision not seen in some time. Whether this is because of the unfamiliar minority governing arrangements, the indelible sense of illegitimacy surrounding how the government came to power, its lack of clear vision, purpose and moral courage, the unpopularity of its policies, the scantily-clad sexism towards its leader or simply its sheer ineffectiveness, is hard to say. There are interesting things to be said about all these claims and in my view they all have some merit, but that is not our subject today.

Rather, I’d like to consider just what it is we want from our political institutions and what exactly we expect them to do. Continue Reading →