This week's "intriguing passage" comes by way of Ashwin Parameswaran's blog on macroeconomics, Macroeconomic Resilience. In his post "Evolvability, Robustness, and Resilience in Complex Adaptive Systems" Parameswaran finds reason to quote economist Joseph Berliner's book, The Innovation Decision in Soviet Industry. Said Berliner:
“Adam Smith taught us to think of competition as an “invisible hand” that guides production into the socially desirable channels….But if Adam Smith had taken as his point of departure not the coordinating mechanism but the innovation mechanism of capitalism, he may well have designated competition not as an invisible hand but as an invisible foot. For the effect of competition is not only to motivate profit-seeking entrepreneurs to seek yet more profit but to jolt conservative enterprises into the adoption of new technology and the search for improved processes and products. From the point of view of the static efficiency of resource allocation, the evil of monopoly is that it prevents resources from flowing into those lines of production in which their social value would be greatest. But from the point of view of innovation, the evil of monopoly is that it enables producers to enjoy high rates of profit without having to undertake the exacting and risky activities associated with technological change. A world of monopolies, socialist or capitalist, would be a world with very little technological change.”
To maintain an evolvable macro-economy, the invisible foot needs to be “applied vigorously to the backsides of enterprises that would otherwise have been quite content to go on producing the same products in the same ways, and at a reasonable profit, if they could only be protected from the intrusion of competition.”
The technological growth of the last two centuries has been championed as one of capitalism's greatest triumphs. Technological innovation, however, is dependent on the invisible foot. But what invisible foot can be found in a world full of firms "too big to fail?"
"Too big to fail" is attractive in the short term. On a longer scale it does not fare so well. The lost innovation on the future may cost society much more than temporary economic instability today.