Stop Slandering Ants

I know, I know. Another libertarian singing another song about markets. You’re probably sick to death of us banging on about how price signals can coordinate economic allocation across vast distances between unrelated parties. How millions of individuals focusing only on themselves can solve unthinkably complicated problems of coordination.

Well it turns out that economists weren’t the first to figure this sort of thing out. It was the ants.

Via the original megablog Slashdot comes this fascinating feature in National Geographic about swarm theory. It profiles research in the field and it’s a fascinating read.

What was interesting to me was that it seems the researchers are unfamiliar with the economic work which seems at least analogous. One by the name of Eric Bonabeau even says “We’re not used to solving decentralized problems in a decentralized way”.

Balderdash. The global economy and its billions of participants solve complex decentralized problems in a decentralized fashion every single day. It succeeds for the same reason that evolution has permitted the formation of hive societies: individuals only solve a small part of the problem and some simple rules permit the propagation of information. For the ants it’s touching feelers, for humans it’s looking at the price tag.

So, my fellow libertarians, let us stop aping Robert Heinlein. When he portrayed insectoid society as the perfect communists he was quite wrong. They are in fact shining examples of the strengths of voluntary society.

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3 Responses to Stop Slandering Ants

  1. Jacques Chester says:

    I’d definitely encourage people to review the Slashdot comments thread. Lots of interesting remarks and a lot of disagreement about whether anthills are communist, capitalist or even something else.

  2. Bannerman says:

    I always preferred the society Heinlein portrayed in The Puppet Masters. There’s something endearing about the thought of politicians, economists and sociologists all trumpeting their cause stark naked. Kind of puts all the lies in perspective.

  3. David Rubie says:

    From wikipedia about ants:
    Some ants, such as the Amazon ants, are incapable of feeding themselves, and must rely on captured worker ants to care for them. In some cases ant colonies may have other species of ants or termites within the same nest.
    On that basis, I’m happy to continue slandering ants that don’t follow the cooperative society, self organising model, although I suspect they don’t care.

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