Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Limits of Indirect Reciprocity

Of indirect reciprocity, Shawn Parrish recently wrote:
One of the behaviors that humans display a lot is "indirect reciprocity". Distinguished from "direct reciprocity", in which I help you and you help me, indirect reciprocity confers no immediate benefit to the one helping. Either I help you, then you help someone else at a later time, or I help you and then someone else, some time in the future, helps me.
In recent centuries, indirect reciprocity has especially made it easier for populations to coordinate a wide range of activity, among individuals who would scarcely be able to coordinate such activity on direct terms. However, there's a problem. As the wealth divide between aggregate time value and the value of all other resource capacity continues to grow, there are corresponding difficulties in coordinating living and working arrangements, between a wide range of income levels. For instance, even though prosperous regions can remain open to tourists and visitors, it's less of a simple matter now, for them to make permanent space for those with low incomes. One important reason, is that individuals with smaller income are less able to contribute to the high costs of either extensive infrastructure building, and/or maintenance.

More than ever, populations need different levels of infrastructure design and commitment, so as to maintain both direct and indirect reciprocity with one another, on economic terms. Many of life's important challenges can be met by those with smaller income levels, so long as provisions remain in place for design capacity which allows more innovative and less costly infrastructure. Otherwise, much of the indirect reciprocity that populations once took for granted in prosperous regions, will only become more difficult to maintain over time. Unfortunately, when wide income variance leaves too little room for basic forms of social and physical infrastructural options, trust is one of the first casualties.

Still, it's possible to generate more direct forms of reciprocity, for the time based product which is now in short supply. Doing so, would help to address the growing disconnect between incomes at a structural level. Not only does today's disconnect increase societal distrust; this vast income divide makes it appear as though millions are incapable of contributing either to their own destinies, or the destinies of others. However, in order for people to gain greater means for reciprocity - whether direct or indirect - they need the freedom to do so. Today, it is this freedom, that is missing. And without the right to contribute to our societies the best we can, others will continue to think that we are not capable of doing so.

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