The Driving Force of the Collective: The Idea of “Conversation” in Contemporary Economic Theory and in the Post-Austrian Theory of the Democratic Process

All throughout the history of human development, institutions and social structures have been a contributing factor in psychological change, have helped to develop “human nature” as we perceive it,1 or perhaps more accurately our culture, education, and society. Institutions affect both our “nature” and our perception of it—if indeed the two differ—and have affected our preferences, our expectations, and our decision-making: this may indicate that our world affects us as much as we affect the world. The evolutionary driving force of society—of the collective—brings the two in alignment, and it is founded in the overcoming of disagreement (created by diversity—a disequilibrium factor), and creation of social unity or agreement.

One may wonder whether it is even possible for the people to find a common will, or common voice, or for a whole people even to come to temporary agreement on anything. Austrians certainly seem to doubt it, writing about the impossibility of collective choice and common will. Yet, I will argue that we can come to agreement regarding the important decisions of the day—without planning and without the state as a hierarchical planning institution—and all that is required is a bit of patience and an open and constructive public conversation. For such a public conversation, we must also have the willingness to take into account all facts and opinions and to learn from the policy lessons of our past. We have done this many times before, as we continue to advance our culture, our civilization.

© The Author(s) 2017

G.L. Nell, The Driving Force of the Collective,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-46839-0_12

Humans are a mix of rational and emotional. It will take time—and some societies are further along the road than others—but we may find that agreement, a common will of the people, emerges, using the means at our disposal, evolving and becoming more united over time. In fact we have been on this path, across all societies and cultures, for as long as we have had language (and in some sense even before that), and social evolution, including group selection, has aided the process. Evolutionary economist Geoffrey Hodgson (2004: 184) describes how “selection of organisms that were more skilled in their conscious deliberations” joined with “social structures with rules concerning individual interactions” and together these helped to “promote further mental development” in an evolutionary process that has reinforced traits conducive to cooperation, communication, reason, and learning.

The crucial replacement of the notion of dynamic competition—which in some form must exist in markets—by dynamic collaboration in the public sector through a discursive/deliberative process has by now been made clear. By now it should be clear that post-Austrian economics of the sort proposed here agrees with the Austrian rejection of the notion of the perfectly competitive model, and its replacement by the idea, in the private sector, of the entrepreneurial-competitive market process, and in the public sector by a different model of knowledge discovery, sharing, and creation. In this process, like that in the private sector, the essential element is the steadily expanding field of mutual awareness on the part of participants. The discursive/deliberative collaborative collective process expresses the course of mutual discovery through which an equilibrium (like unanimous agreement), if we believe in one, might possibly be approached.

Although an equilibrium is likely impossible in the private or public sector, it is a useful construct (just as it is in the private sector) in the public sector process of deliberation and decision-making—to express the resolution point found when voting or choosing policy by committee debate or legislating or making civil servant (bureaucratic) decisions. And although deliberative democracy and other democratic process theories have existed in political science for several decades (Cini 2011), there has been disappointingly little impact upon mainstream Austrian theory.

 
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