Vox Populi: Realistic Philosophy for the Political Economy of Future Humanity

Chapter 00: The Problem


A growing number of people, worldwide, agree that the present configuration of human economic and social activities is inconsistent with an expectation that it can be continued in its present form. This developing conviction displays a crisis of belief and trust in the inherited socio-economic paradigm which is contributing to the destabilising of societies and economic systems across the planet. This process is perceived to be an imminent and credible threat to the medium-term survival of the dominant forms of civilisation and also, perhaps, for the long-term survival of the human species in any meaningful state of individual well-being.


The present forms of economic and social activities employed by societies across the planet are dominated and defined by forms of economic enterprise and political organisation which though they are very varied in the details of their implementation they have in common several key socio-economic principals. This set of principals might be considered to be one of, possibly, several ’archaeo-institutions ’.

These ’archaeo-institutions’ are the foundational principles which comprise those sets of human behaviour that have developed in response to the requirements of learning to live in community with one another in mutually beneficial ways. During the course of time and in the face of ever changing demands, difficulties and opportunities each society has also uniquely developed further structures, laws and ’supra-institutions’.

It is these ’supra-institutions’ which characterise, together with their particular contextual endowments and scarcities, a particular socio-economic system. How each society has done this, and the historical path that this has lead them over, is what gives rise within each society to its own distinctive culture.

Although highly diverse and displaying often seemingly very different approaches to life, those societies which have grown beyond a certain quite small size [cf. Jared Diamond.. ’Germs, Warfare and Steel’] and which have ’settled’ habitations have very clearly organised their developing economic endeavours according to just one ’archaeo-institution’. These quite few principles are what we have called the ’archaeo-economic’ paradigm.

It would appear to the author that this ’archaeo-economic’ paradigm includes these nine foundational socio-economic principals which universally define our economic behaviours:

  • The exclusive ownership by individuals of identifiable discreet ’items’

  • The circumstances for determining the relative values of items and their exchange

  • The representation of value through quanta of equally valued symbolic ’unit’ values

  • A convention ascribing fixed numbers of units to specifically designed physical icons

  • A trusted arrangement exclusively controlling the production of value icons

  • The use of trusted value icons as intermediary ’vectors’ or ’stores of value’ in the asymmetric exchange of items of value between individuals

  • The valuation and payment of labour performed by one individual for another, of various quantity and quality, in appropriate quanta of value icons

  • The products of paid labour become owned by the owner(s) of the other inputs

  • Specialisation by individuals in their skills and object of their labour enables a number of individuals, after exchanges, to each have more of each good than would be the case if each produced all the same range of goods themselves.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive. It may be cogently argued there are some items which should be excluded or rephrased. I look forward to its collaborative refinement.

It is worth re-emphasising that all of the implementations of the many societal institutions and socio-economic systems that are based upon the ’archeo-economic’ paradigm have developed differently in detail. Yet, overall, they all still display a set of common characteristics which, as we shall see, are key to a common pattern of economic stratification in every society which has developed around them.

In each of these societies one can easily identify a quite small strata of people whose needs for their own well-being are provided for in relative abundance. For them there is little or no immediate pressure to be actively and directly occupied on an ’every day basis’ in the productive economic processes which provide for those needs. Not for those needs which are basic, nor for any of those ’needs’ which are essentially whimsical ’wants’.

In the other 90% to 99% of each society are found those strata of people for whom the basic daily requirements are provided either barely, incompletely, precariously or not at all. For them there is constant, unremitting pressure to be actively and directly occupied in almost any economic process potentially capable of contributing to the provision of their most basic needs. Even for those few amongst them whose basic physical needs are generally assured by stable economic activity, like those in the less secure of these strata, they have little or no expectation of ever achieving any enduring state of well-being at any stage during their lifetimes. Neither do their children.

When each society is looked at and their details are compared there is no large group of them that can be labelled as being comprised of ’typical’ societies. However, at the large scale, when looking at each society in its entirety and comparing those attributes we can then see the data which supports the broad claims and statements which have been made in the previous paragraphs.

These commonly seen outcomes are stereotypical of societies which have over thousands and over hundreds of years been creating, re-creating, changing and developing themselves. None of these societies have noticeably made any sustained move away from the position of having accepted as a ’given’ the principles comprising the ’archaeo-economic’ paradigm. None of these countries does not display the systemic inequality that has been described.

Throughout history and even through much of the ’pre-historical’ period, if archaeological inferences have been accurate, the reality of systemic inequality within societies has been recognised. This inequality has always been strongly supported and robustly defended by the “well-provided-for” minorities. The degree to which other social strata has been equally enthusiastic has been less marked and markedly less consistent.

History is littered with the records and evidence of the dissatisfaction and resentment amongst those ”less-well-provided-for” social strata which is directed at the perceived injustice of this perpetually enduring status quo. Even more striking has been the consistent evidence that this inequality can invariably be seen to have been sustained within the changing ’institutional landscape’ of each and every society, even as each developed and changed. Even through periods of break-up into smaller groups and even through mergers and assimilations as they grew again in size.

It would appear that In every case the unconscious acceptance of the consequences of the ’archaeo-economic’ paradigm can be seen to have shaped the social stratification of access to sustained well-being and that this has suggested and facilitated the evolution of ’institutional landscapes’ in which are sustained the stratification of privilege through the institutions of economic power, of military power and of political and religious power. The control of these creations has inevitably been subsumed into the domain of individuals drawn from the same strata of privilege as created them. These arrangements persist over very, very long periods of time. Van Zyl Slabbert and David Walsh in examining the root causes of apartheid speak of ’a self-perpetuating elite’ (cf. South Africa’s Options : Strategies for Sharing ) .

It would also appear that in every case the individuals and families comprising the less privileged social strata have been in turns resentful, vocally dissident and in violent revolt. Their ire is ultimately directed towards the continuation of the injustices that are directed towards them through the immutable authority of social institutions that are systemic parts of the ’institutional landscape’ they are subject to. This ’inter-strata’ and ’intra-societal ’ tension is systemic at its root. Consequently, the ’privileged strata’ has had to pay constant attention to matters of governance, social control and institutional tinkering in every age and in every society. These efforts are motivated with the aim of maintaining social order and a peacefulness within which they might continue to enjoy their privileged level of relative well-being.

Part of that relative well-being has included the leisure time which comes from having “little or no immediate pressure to be actively and directly occupied on an ’every day basis’ in the productive economic processes which provide for those needs”. Consequently, from the days of tribal societies until those of today, in which the ’institutional landscape’ of a single society may encompass several megalopolis and have a population of 1 billion people, the need has evolved for the privileged to instead perform the day-to-day tasks of governance, infrastructure management, order and peacefulness. This requirement is systemic and became an intrinsic requirement of privileged lifestyles. The need was always there to manage and ensure that those who were actually required to be busy “on an ’every day basis’ in the productive economic processes which provide” for the needs of the privileged and which fulfil their wants.

Solutions have been continually sought, implemented and developed by the privileged strata that will preserve their leisure time while also accommodating growing demands for governance and management as their property increases. Whatever the details of implementation every solution has had the common characteristic of being, in essence, a ’management system’.
Less privileged and appropriately capable people are induced to be loyal and placed in positions within the ’economic domain’ of a more privileged ’domain owner’.

The loyalty inducement will typically significantly improve the current well-being of the appointee with the expectation of facilitating over time a sufficient improvement that their well-being may be improved permanently and consequently that also of their children and descendants. This variously secures a ’management strata’ within society through the introduction into or further development within the ’institutional landscape’ of the institution of ’delegated power and authority’.

The implementation of this institution has followed a developmental path of increasing sophistication. It can be traced from the earliest delegations of responsibility by a father to his older children for the proper and effective husbandry of his livestock, or of the land upon which the family grew their food. The numbers of people working on somebody else’s land progressively increased. Management tasks in relation to these people would have proliferated as a result whether their presence was due to their labouring on the land being for payment, or for the withholding of violence by the owner upon them or, perhaps, as a consequence of the people having made payment made to the land owner for their own occupation and use of it.

This model of delegated authority would eventually produce social strata characterised by people who were paid to act in the place of, and on behalf of, an owner of property. Especially in ensuring that those properties were kept usefully producing value to their owner. The main differentiation between these strata was a consequence of the status and reward attached to the properties managed and the responsibilities delegated to an individual in the process.

Ancient Greece went through an evolution of governance styles. Initially property ownership, the defence of property and the facilitation of value from its use, usually by slaves, were matters of common concern to the ’privileged strata’ who sought cooperative ways of minimising the time each spent on them. The revolving assumption of jointly delegated responsibilities, by individual people of property, to manage and apply their obligatory contributions of physical and financial resources for jointly required infrastructure in the community, and for military defence or for the keeping of social order, gave way to jointly sharing the costs only, through taxation, of permanently hired or periodically elected representatives to handle these matters. Including the use of mercenaries in war.

Originally any ’permanent’ source of independent management of community resources, in what we know of early Grecian societies, had been arbitrated through mobilising the relative impartiality, integrity and moral authority of a community’s religious community and of the physical resources of the temples themselves.

This model of the temple institution, in which it becomes central to matters of civil administration and community governance, is one which has been found to have been implemented extensively in periods much earlier than that of Ancient Greece. It existed contemporaneously to them in the societies and civilisations of the Far East. A fact suggesting that the approaches taken by Ancient Greece to resolving this problem may have been seeded by contact with countries far to the east of them.

Indeed very early examples of this practice of delegating the power and responsibilities of propertied individ